An intense gun battle between the military and terror bandits Abu Sayyaf Group resulted in the death of 15 soldiers, one of them an Army officer Monday afternoon in Patikul, Sulu.
Marine Col. Edgard A. Arevalo, the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Public Affairs Office identified the fatalities as S/Sgt Ruel A Catubay, 39 years old; Sgt. Jay Erwin L. Almohallas, 38 years old; Corporals Omar M. Raddulan, 41; Ronald M. Galoniga, 33; Elid S. Ismael, 49; Salik H. Mandangan, 31; Private First Class Nestor C. Bacaling, 26; Pfc. Jison B. Falcasantos, 28; Pfc. Gerald A. Yubal, 29; Pfc. Dhendo A. Dujo, 32; Pfc. Roselito A. Arnoco, 29; Pfc. Glend C. Resma, 24; Pfc. Rogelio D. Vincoy, 28; Private Jonas A. Lumayan, 23 and marine officer Ernan P. Gusto, 33 who holds a rank of 2nd Lt.
There were actually three separate encounters that day between the soldiers and the bandits, with the most severe happening in Sitio Kan Jalul, Barangay Maligay in Patikul where all the 15 fatalities on the government side happened.
Those who perished were part of the composite team from the 35th Infantry Battalion and 21st Infantry Battalion which encountered at least 120 heavily armed ASG terrorists in the area.
Arevalo said soldiers operating in the area immediately rushed to the encounter site to pursue the withdrawing terrorists while other Army units provided the blocking forces.
Army Major Filemon Tan, Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WesMinCom) spokesman said government forces on the ground have yet to determine how many ASG fighters were killed in the firefight.
“Hindi pa natin alam. Sa dami ng nakalaban, malamang meron sila. Saka kagandahan fight talaga iyung nangyari. Ibig sabihin hindi tayo nakuhanan ng armas. Hindi nababoy iyung katawan ng tropa at hindi tayo nalapitan,” Tan said.
Four ASG bandits however were neutralized in separate encounters that day, with the two ending up dead after their group, numbering to about 30, battled soldiers led by Lt. Col. Presco Lobos who were on patrol in Sitio Kugan, Barangay Bakung, Patikul, Sulu.
The bandits that fought Lobos’ troops were led by sub-leader Jamiri Jawong Jauhari who was reportedly injured after the gun battle.
Later, at about mid-afternoon the same day, Lt. Col. Samuel Manzano and his troops encountered more or less 80 Abu Sayyaf terrorists at Barangay Kuttong, Talipao, Sulu.
Arevalo said after about 30 minutes of heavy fighting and sustaining two deaths, the bandits withdrew westward.
Two government soldiers were wounded in the encounter.
The latest casualties on the terrorist side bring the total number of ASG deaths to 25 since heavy firefighting erupted last Friday.
Meantime, President Rodrigo Duterte said he expects retaliatory attacks from the ASG but stressed that the government is ready to crush the Islamist militants.
“I know that there will be some reprisals, I’m ready for that. There’s always a drawback there,” said the Chief Executive in his remarks during the 18th founding anniversary of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) held at Rizal Hall in Malacañang on Monday.
This, after he ordered government security forces to crush the ASG which he said is “out of control”.
In his previous speech before troops in Davao City, Duterte said that with a truce declared between the government and communist rebels and with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) willing to hold talks, now is the best time to concentrate on the war against illegal drugs and extremism.
In the same event, the President also said that he has completely lost respect for ASG when the group began to slaughter people in front of the camera and lately even murdered an innocent boy.
“If they’re listening now, …nawala ang bilib ko sa inyo. Ako may respeto noon, you are fighting for freedom. Tama kayo there was this historical injustice, committed against the Moro people,” said Duterte.
(With a report from Elena L. Aben) (FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD)