By Martin Sadongdong
At least 11 Philippine Army soldiers were killed in action while 14 others were wounded in a ferocious armed encounter between the military and suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Patikul, Sulu on Friday afternoon.
The fatalities belong to the Delta Company of the 21st Infantry Battalion (21 IB), 11th Infantry Division (11 ID), according to Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).
On Saturday, a military report from the WestMinCom identified the slain soldiers as First Lieutenant Rogelio Deligero Jr., the company commander; Staff Sergeant Jason Gazzingan, Corporals John Manodom, Mark Dixter Montenegro, Rasul Ao-As, Ernesto Bautista, Privates First Class Benson Bongguic, Jomel Pagulayan, Premark Vallecer, Private Jiydon Usman, and Corporal Jomar Ninalga.
Meanwhile, upon verification, the Philippine Army said there were 14injured soldiers.
They were identified as Staff Sergeant Alexander Bolesa, Sergeant Oliver Salvador, Corporals Erick Curioso, Jesus Genora, Apollo Papa, Johnday Sabaway, Narciso Salidad Jr., Privates First Class Robert Arias, Odit Flores, Jaypee Maddawing, Solomon Ngayak, Privates RJ Estiban and Jesrael Sapao.
Sobejana said there was an undetermined number of casualties on the enemy’s side based on the bloodstains at the encounter site.
The troops also lost six R4 rifles, a K3 saw, an R4 attached 40mm GL, and a handheld Harris radio device used by the soldiers for communications.
The clash occured while the troops were conducting combat operations in the hinterlands of Sitio Bud Lubong, Barangay Danag around 3:05 p.m., Sobejana said. The firefight lasted for an hour.
“It was a meeting engagement, part of our security operations,” Sobejana said.
Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said the operation was part of a series of security engagements that the military has been conducting recently.
“This pursuit operation followed two major encounters the previous days where our soldiers inflicted heavy casualties to the enemy (killed and wounded) in both armed engagements. High powered firearms were also seized by our operating units,” he said.
The terror group that the troops engaged is believed to be commanded by ASG’s two most notorious leaders, Radullah Sahiron and Hadjan Sawadjaan.
They were the brains behind some of the worst terror attacks in the Philippines. Sawadjaan is reportedly regarded in the military community as the “emir” or leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Southeast Asia.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Felimon Santos Jr. expressed condolences to the family of the fallen heroes.
Flags in all military camps were flown at half mast as the military mourned the death of the soldiers, according to Arevalo.
“While the entire nation is grappling with COVID-19 pandemic, our troopers are in the forefront as the government’s arm to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease on the one hand while on the other, they are battling this terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group,” Arevalo said.
He said operations reinforcement teams were deployed to run after the ASG bandits.
Likewise, Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay offered sympathies to the families of the slain servicemen.
“While it is a sad day for us, their sacrifices will inspire us to strengthen our resolve until we are free from terrorism. This setback will not deter us from performing our duty to serve the Filipino people and secure our land,” Gapay added.
He said the Philippine Army will provide the necessary assistance and benefits to the bereaved families of the troops.
Meanwhile, Sobejana said the Western Mindanao Command emphatizes with the kin of the sodliers who fought hard and braved the encounter against the Abu Sayyaf Group.
He said the military will exert all efforts to notify the families of the slain soldiers and give them assistance.
Sobejana said the injured soldiers were immediately given medical treatment.
He said the WestMinCom will sustain their security operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group while enforcing the community quarantine in Mindanao.