PGMA pays last respects to fallen soldiers in Basilan

August 15, 2009 9:06 am 

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Aug. 15 — A pall of gloom and somber hushed tones pervaded the Western Mindanao Command gym here when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo turned up Saturday to pay her last respects for 23 noble soldiers who died in battle pursuing the notorious Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan Wednesday.

As commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the President went out of her way to make an unscheduled visit and be with her fallen loyal men in the field, albeit for one last time.

A short prayer for the dead and their bereaved families, friends and colleagues in uniform was said and immediately the President went to each flag-draped coffin and spent a good time assuring family members of her continued support.

Her first stop was at the coffin of 1Lt. Chester Varela, a native of Floridablanca, Pampanga. As a kabalen, the President spoke to the mother and the younger brother, from the Air Force in Basa Air Base, Christian Varela, in their native dialect.

She even told Chester’s mother that she is scheduled to go to Floridablanca this Wednesday. She stayed a good 10 minutes with the Varelas before moving on to the next coffin.

The gym, which was filled with wreaths from the entrance to the stage, teemed with family members and fellow soldiers in uniform. The coffins were arranged in such a way that one row had three of four coffins, each of which was draped with the national flag.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said each of the slain soldier’s family received P250,000 cash from the President regardless of rank; those injured in action got P100,000 (for major injuries) and P50,000 each (for minor injuries).

After condoling with the bereaved families, the President went to the WesMinCom Hospital, a five-minute drive from the gym, to comfort each of the 25 injured soldiers lying inside a ward and encouraged them to get well soon.

The Chief Executive then proceeded to the WesMinCom headquarters briefing room where she held her command conference.

Remonde, along with Basilan Gov. Jun Akbar and Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade in Basilan, meanwhile, held a press briefing in a nearby canteen. (PNA)

scs/OPS/rsm

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