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Davao City, Philippines

Living up to a tradition

July 09, 2019 - Tuesday 4:07 AM by Jimmy Laking

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My hometown was in a subdued celebratory mode recently with the promotion of Police Major General Amando Empiso, the commander of the elite Special Action Force, to two-star general. 

If I remember right, this was the same young man who visited the office of Peryodiko Dabaw in 1987 as a cadet of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). He was with two other cadets and a personnel of the Philippine Information Agency. 

This was the year when General Rodolfo Biazon (who was previously assigned in Davao City as a marine colonel) was the superintendent of the PMA. 

The cadets were on a familiarization tour of the city and some actually were able to join patrols with regular army troops in the process. 

The new SAF commander hails from La Trinidad (from whence came two SAF officers who died in Mamasapano, including the son of a neighbor, Police Inspector Gednat Tabdi.)

Empiso is the second police general from the Cordillera to head the SAF, the first being Major General Benjamin Lusad who led the SAF that helped liberate Marawi City from Islamic extremists. 

Although known more for its strawberries and as a salad bowl and for the reputation of its people as a tractable lot, La Trinidad actually has a tradition of sending its young men to the police and military service.

The tradition dates back to WWII when most of the town’s able-bodied men and women joined the famed 66th Infantry of the USAFE that made life difficult for Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita and his troops.  

Harassed throughout and his troops continually decimated, Yamashita surrendered in 1945 and was eventually hanged in Baguio City. 

The town also contributed several women nurses to the 66th in the fight for liberation as the list of war veterans confirmed. Some of this unit’s officers later became respectable political leaders after the war. 

Partly because of their efforts and partly because of the locals’ high regard for authority and rule of law, men in uniform in the Cordillera generally are looked up to with respect.

Last month, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año and PNP chief General Oscar Albayalde made the region even prouder when they conferred on five PNP officers from the Cordillera the Medalya ng Kabayanihan for their bravery and heroism in the liberation of Marawi. The medals represent the second highest awards given by the PNP. 

The officers, all with the SAF, were Colonel Lambert Suerte (commander of the Rapid Deployment Battalion), Colonel Ledon Monte (commander of the 5th Special Action Battalion), Colonel Mario Mayam-es (commander of the 2nd special action battalion), Colonel Jack Angog (commander of the 1st Special Action Battalion) and Lieutenant Colonel Sonnie Omengan, team leader of the Explosives and Ordnance Division. 

Albayalde in his speech said he shared the pride of the PNP in honoring the officers of the SAF that fought in Marawi with a high sense of professionalism. 

Before this, Mayam-es was a local hero. He was chief of police of La Trinidad when a mountainside gave way at the height of typhoon Pepeng in 2009, burying part of a village in the process that left at least 77 people killed. Without anybody telling him what to do, Mayam-es led the rescue work that took days before the last victim’s body was recovered.