TUBA, Benguet —Families, relatives and friends of the 44 fallen Special Action Forces of the Philippine National Police planted trees in Tuba, Benguet to commemorate the one- year death anniversary of their loved ones who were killed in action in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Aside from the tree planting activity dubbed “Tree-bute, “ a two- day program was held at the Ibaloi Heritage Park including an offering of floating candles at the Burnham Lake in Baguio.

The “tree-bute” site located in Barangay Badiwan along Marcos highway was originally allotted to the 14 Cordillera Administrative Region SAF families by the Cordillera Heritage Foundation, Inc. formerly known as Smile Movement, Inc.

The CAR SAF families started the “tree-bute” on March 15, 2015 after the Mamasapano incident. The activity was shared on social media, which inspired other SAF families in various parts of the country to join them in their planned commemoration activity in Baguio.

Lead organizer Julie Cayang-o said the other SAF families were amazed at the unity of the Cordilleran families that started the “tree-bute.”

“When we told them the Cordilleran families were planning to commemorate together at an earlier date, they expressed desire to join in the affair,” she said.

The two-day commemorative activity was attended by 37 families of the original 44. The activity started with a candle lighting activity on Friday and prayer walk from Session Road to Ibaloi park on Saturday, followed by a short program and boodle fight at the Park. It was concluded with tree planting at Badiwan.

Merlyn Gamutan, widow of PSI Joey Gamutan from Basilan province, said they were surprised at the way people treated the Cordilleran family members according them such heroic tribute. “It’s only here that we see how people treat the SAF 44 as heroes,” she said.

“We hope the administrator of this site will grant us, the rest of the SAF 44 families, to be part of this site that our beloved husbands, fathers, sons will be accorded the same love and respect,” she pleaded, teary-eyed.

Gamutan expressed hope to contribute to the foundation so that they can be included in the “tree-bute” site.

The foundation granted the request of the SAF 44 and the council members are currently making plans to expand the site.

The “tree-bute” is a project of the foundation where individuals can plant and dedicate a tree for their loved ones. It is a way to give meaning to the place and the trees that will be planted and to ensure the survival of the trees and make the arid and barren area lush with vegetation.

By dedicating the trees to their dead loved ones, the organizers hope that the relatives who planted the trees will take care of them with love and care as they have taken care of their dearly departed.

The Cordilleran SAF families were the first to be given the opportunity to plant trees. Ghemar Pawid, one of the foundation’s council members said “by dedicating the planted trees to the SAF heroes, they will be the guardians of the place and trees that will be planted therein.”

The Badiwan “tree-bute site” is part of a theme park being developed by the foundation. It will be known as Badiwan Hobbitat, after the shire, a division of land, inhabited by hobbits, a diminutive humanoid race in the film,” Lord of the Rings.” THOM F. PICANA/