By David Stout
January 30, 2015

Flags flew at half-mast across the Philippines on Friday as the entire country observed a national day of mourning following the violent deaths of 44 elite commandos during a daring raid.

President Benigno Aquino held a ceremony honoring the deceased servicemen on Friday. “The entire nation is requested to offer prayers and all public institutions are directed to lower the Philippine flag at half-mast on Friday,” Aquino said in a statement released ahead of the service.

Over the weekend, members of an elite police force entered territory controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group in Mindanao Island’s Maguindanao province, where two high-value terrorists were believed to have been hiding.

Rebel commanders claim authorities had not liaised with their representatives before entering the territory and members were acting in self-defense when the firefight broke out.

Despite the heavy casualty toll, officials claim the raid as a success as it resulted in the death of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, an expert bombmaker and a member of the Indonesia terrorism outfit Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command. However, authorities have erroneously claimed to have killed Marwan in the past on multiple occasions, according to the BBC.

The government signed a landmark peace accord with the MILF in 2014 after decades of civil conflict, mainly in the Philippines’ conflict-riven south.

During a televised address on Wednesday, Aquino pleaded with the nation to continue to support the ongoing peace deal and warned against retaliation in the wake of the killings.

“If the peace process won’t succeed, if we were to go back to the status quo, or if the violence gets worse, isn’t this exactly the opposite of the purpose of their sacrifice?” asked the President.

Others paid their respects to the fallen commandos via social media.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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