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Full military honors for 19 soldiers slain in Basilan firefight

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The eerie state of silence that pervaded the air for 10 minutes was shattered when a Philippine Air Force (PAF) band played the immortal song “Nearer My God To Thee” as the flag-draped coffins of 15 of the 19 Army soldiers slain in Basilan were unloaded one by one from a lumbering C-130 Air Force plane at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City Friday night.

Four other Special Forces members who were killed during a fierce gun battle with rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Al-Barka, Basilan last Tuesday were ferried, as requested by their families, to Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City where they will be buried with full military honors.

From the PAF aircraft, each coffin was carried by six pallbearers with one senior officer in command. They marched in slow-motion cadence towards a pre-designated area at the tarmac where all the remains of the 15 fallen troopers from the elite Special Forces of the Philippine Army were placed in one row for blessing by a Catholic priest.

On hand to meet the fallen soldiers, considered as heroes who were killed in action, was Brig. Gen. Rolly Tenafrancia, Army chief of staff, who represented Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz.

Then the families and other close relatives of the soldiers were led to the respective remains of their loved ones.

At this point, the solemnity was replaced by loud cries and wailings that reverberated at the airbase’s tarmac.

Television cameramen and photographers recorded the whole proceedings as a small crowd in a highly-restricted area watched, some in tears as the song “Nearer My God To Thee,” the theme song of the movie “Titanic,” continued to be played.

The bereaved parents, though deeply saddened by the tragedy that had befallen on their sons, most of them in their 20s, took everything in strides as they accompanied the remains of their loved ones to the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery for Heroes) in nearby Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City for a two-day wake to allow friends and comrades to pay their last respects.

President Benigno S. Aquino III visited the fallen Army Special Forces Friday night also to pay his last respects and condoled with their families.

The soldiers were killed during a 10-hour gun battle with hundreds of combined MILF rebels and Muslim bandits in Al-Barka, Basilan on Tuesday. Six rebels were also killed and an undetermined number of others wounded in the firefight.

The troops had run out of bullets during the battle.

Fourteen other soldiers were wounded in the clash, the deadliest since 2007 when 10 soldiers were beheaded after they were killed also in Al-Barka town.

By Ben Cal





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