Beyond the black beret–the stories of the SAF 44 | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022


There are still more questions than answers.

But there is one fact that will not change: we lost 44 great men that bloody day in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

We spent the past couple of weeks trying to learn as much as we could about them, honoring them by putting together “The Faces of the SAF 44,”’s memorial page for our fallen heroes

These men weren’t just brave police officers, they weren’t just elite commandos—they were fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, friends. Their deaths should be mourned and their lives celebrated.

Here are excerpts:

The last time Senior Insp. Ryan Pabalinas left his house, his wife Erica and their daughter didn’t want him to go.

Ryan loved being a policeman. He even dressed his toddler daughter in tiny versions of his PNP uniforms.

Senior Insp. John Garry Erana’s sister really wanted him to be at her wedding. So when he told her his training in the United States would coincide with her special day, she decided to move it.

Garry’s sister’s wedding wasn’t the only one the Erana family was looking forward to. Garry was set to marry lawyer Suzette Tucay next year.

Senior Insp. Max Jim Ramirez Tria was the only one among five sons to follow his father’s footsteps as a policeman.

His eldest brother had asked him to be the best man in his wedding to a policewoman this May 18.

Described by many as humble, Senior Insp. Cyrus Paleyan Anniban was a born leader—he was a boy scout troop leader, a high school CAT officer and company commander of his PNPA class.

Wedding anniversary

At 17, Senior Insp. Gednat G. Tabdi made the leap from studying veterinary medicine to enrolling at the police academy.

During the Zamboanga City siege, he realized he wanted to get married and build a family.

At the time of his death, Gednat was excited for the birth of his first child. He married his wife Leah just last year.

Senior Insp. Joey Gamutan and his wife Merlyn celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary miles apart. It was Jan. 24, the day before the clash that took his life. The next day, despite being deep in the battle, Joey was able to call Merlyn one last time.

A day later, their firstborn turned 5.

Senior Insp. Rennie Tayrus relished being a policeman, even if it meant being deployed on his birthday.

On Jan. 2, he shared a photo of a policeman with the words: “Parents, please stop telling your children that we will haul them off to jail if they are bad. We want them to run to us if they are scared… not be scared of us.”

SPO1 Lover Inocencio spent the holidays with his wife Liezl and their only child, who turned 5 two days before Christmas.

There are many photos of PO3 Rodrigo Acob Jr. with his arm around his son and carrying his young daughter. He spent the holiday season making memories with the people he loved: going to the mall, celebrating Christmas, watching his daughter compete in a pageant, singing karaoke.

PO3 Virgel Villanueva, 39, is from San Pablo, Zamboanga del Sur province.

PO3 Andres Viernes Duque Jr. is from Aurora, Isabela province.

Good uncle

A relative posted this tribute to PO3 Victoriano Nacion Acain, 32, on Facebook: “Thank you for being a good uncle… a good brother-in-law… Thank you for always being there in times of our problems… We are very proud of you… We love you…”

PO3 Noel Golocan, 34, will be remembered by relatives for his “smiling face.”

PO3 Junrel Kibete’s childhood friend Dindo Campo told the INQUIRER: “Mula noong bata pa kami ang nakita ko kay Jun mabait na tao talaga siya… Mabungisngis, palatawa (kahit may) problema.”

PO3 Jedz-in Asjali was the breadwinner of the family. His younger brother Ibrahim wanted to join him in the PNP-SAF.

According to an uncle, PO3 Robert Allaga, 35, spent his childhood in the mining town of Itogon.

PO3 John Lloyd Sumbilla liked watching movies. The last one he watched was “American Sniper.” He wanted to watch it again.

PO2 Amman Misuari Esmula leaves behind his wife Elisa and their five children. She told Agence France-Presse: “I still can’t believe what happened to my husband.”

PO2 Peterson I. Carap, 36, leaves behind a young son. People say he looks just like his father.

PO2 Roger Cordero’s son wants to follow his father’s footsteps. Archidaniel, 9 years old, wants to be a policeman.

PO2 Nicky D.C. Nacino Jr. liked sending flowers to his wife while he was away on deployment.

It was an assignment in Zamboanga City that led PO2 Glenn Bedua to meet his wife Adelisa on Christmas Day in 2010. Their son Glenden is not even a year old.

Birthday cake

There’s a picture of PO2 Chum Agabon holding a cake. Written on it, in blue icing, are the words “Smile tol Chum!”

“Who would have thought this would be your last birthday cake?” a friend wrote on Facebook.

Chum was only 31 when he lost his life.

A friend described PO2 Richelle Baluga as a “brave yet very calm man.”

PO2 Noel Balaca, 27, would also be remembered for his beautiful voice.

In PO2 Joel Dulnuan’s desire to finish his studies, he worked hard, first as a janitor and then a crew member at a fast food joint, according to the Philippine News Agency.

PO2 Godofredo Cabanlet loved his job so much that he used his Tagaligtas patch as his Facebook profile picture.

But then he discovered a new role that he loved even more: father.

“Second New Year’s Eve together,” PO2 Franklin Cadap Danao’s girlfriend Kathy wrote on Facebook. She had no idea it would be their last.

She had been waiting for him to return so they could celebrate his birthday and their anniversary.

Online, PO2 Walner Danao and his wife make no secret their love and adoration for their daughter Juliana Elize.

Mourners paid their last respects to PO2 Jerry Kayob via prayers, song and dance, and personal stories in La Trinidad, Benguet province.

Bomb expert

PO2 Noble Kiangan, father and husband, was the lone bomb expert among the SAF 44.

PO2 Ephraim Mejia’s sister Lovely posted on his Facebook wall on Jan. 26, seemingly unaware of what had transpired. “Here we go again. After the Zamboanga incident, it’s Maguindanao now. Father, may you always watch over Kuya Ephraim and our whole family. Be safe, Kuya. I love you!”

PO2 Omar Nacionales, 27, leaves behind a wife, PO2 Gae Ann Guiniling—who is also a member of the SAF—and a brother determined to finish his police education.

PO2 Rodel Ramacula was good friends with PO2 Noel Balaca. He was also a veteran of the Zamboanga siege.

His sister Rose will miss, among many other memories of PO2 Romeo Senin II, their yearly “kakulitan” when she’d go home every December, her Kuya Romeo’s arm draped on her shoulders when together, the laughter whenever she was mistaken for his wife or girlfriend.

PO1 Russel Bilog, 28, hails from the Mountain Province.

For PO1 Angel Kodiamat, a life of police service runs in the family. Angel was one of 10 members of his clan who work as police officers.

PO1 Windell Llano Candano will be remembered as a man who left no soldier behind.

PO1 Loreto Guyab Capinding II was set to marry his girlfriend of seven years. He did not tell her about the Mamasapano mission.

PO1Gringo Cayang-o was from Sadanga, Mountain Province.

PO1 Romeo Cempron wanted to seek reassignment to Cebu province to be closer to Christine, his wife of three years.

PO1 Mark Clemencio and his family survived Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

“Dong, I really really want to be a commando,” PO1 Joseph Gumatay Sagonoy had told his brother James.

James stopped schooling so Joseph could pursue his dream.

PO1 Oliebeth Viernes had dreams of seeing his wife Virgie sign up for the police force.

It’s a dream that she intends to turn into a reality after his tragic death at the age of 34.

Visit the memorial page. Friends and relatives of the SAF 44 who wish to add to the tributes may e-mail [email protected].



SAF heroes’ last text messages were pleas for help

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