Philippines mourns slain police

ZAMBOANGA CITY – The families of 44 Philippine police commandos killed in a clash with rebels were joined Friday by the country in a day of mourning, local media reported.

Candles were lit and prayers said as the nation paid tribute to the Special Action Force troops slain in a battle in the southern province of Maguindanao Sunday.

"We seek your help to attain justice," widow Erica Pabalinas said in a message to President Benigno Aquino III.

Her husband, Sr. Insp. Ryan Pabalinas, was among those killed in an 11-hour firefight that threatened the 10-month-old peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and has led to recriminations over the planning of the police mission to arrest two suspected bomb-makers.

Pabalinas described her and her daughter’s misgivings about the mission, the GMA News website reported. "Daddy, don't leave," she recalled her daughter saying.

The widow said she was "consoling myself that he died a hero" and added: "All I ask for right now is justice, not only for my husband but for everyone who fought and fell."

Dominador Nacionalez, the father of Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Nacionalez, told GMA News: "It was worse than a massacre, because they were stripped of their firearms, uniforms and other possessions.”

Aquino called for public institutions to fly the Philippine flag at half-mast. “These deaths are a great loss to our people and during this time of grief, a most solemn commemoration and respect is called for,” he said.

Since the battle, anger has mounted, much of it directed at the president. On Wednesday he was forced to defend his role in approving the mission.

His absence from Thursday’s return of the commandos’ bodies to Manila further stoked criticism. Instead, Aquino attended the inauguration of a car factory.

"I am a private senior citizen but I will be at the airport when SAF bodies will arrive,” Manny Dalipe, a former mayor of Zamboanga City, said in a Facebook comment.

Dailpe, a former air force helicopter pilot, added: “Let's line up the streets where they will pass. Let's light candles along the way. At least this small recognition to them is worth millions. They deserve nothing less."

Monsi dela Cruz, a Zamboanga City hotelier told The Anadolu Agency: "Like many others I was expecting our dear president to welcome our fallen policemen, our heroes at the airport. But he opted to go to the Mitsubishi inauguration."

In the Christian-majority city, thousands gathered for a candlelight vigil on Thursday night. "We mourn the loss of human lives due to acts of violence,” Santi Araneta told AA. “We call for justice for all the victims of violence in Mindanao."

Three C130 transport planes returned 42 bodies to Manila, with two Muslim troopers buried in Zamboanga.

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