President Duterte commended the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Friday for keeping the country safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, he lamented that he was not able to personally visit soldiers who were casualties in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu that day.
Troops from the 2nd Special Forces Battalion reportedly clashed with around 15 members of the ASG in Barangay Langhub Friday. The exact number of casualties is yet to be determined.
In a speech at Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu, Duterte said that he was disappointed about not being able to visit the casualties from the 15-minute clash due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Before I read the prepared speech, I just like to say something from my heart. One is that, well, I am disappointed that I cannot go to the hospital,” he said in his speech on Friday but belatedly broadcast Saturday morning.
“There are times with so many restrictions, I cannot – I would not have to visit the wounded soldiers. But just the same please convey to them –
kung naririnig nila (if they can hear me) – my profound gratitude for their service to the country,” he added.
“Recently, many among your ranks offered their lives for our country. On behalf of a grateful nation, I convey my most profound sympathies to their grieving families, for they are the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace. For that, we will forever be grateful,” he said.
The Commander-in-Chief likewise commended soldiers for carrying out their duties to protect the country from lawless elements during a global health crisis.
“We just (celebrated) the start of 2021 a few weeks ago, yet the dangers we faced last year remain in the midst. We thus thank you, our brave so-ldiers, for your unrelenting service to the nation during these difficult times,” Duterte said.
“To this day, terrorism and insurgency continue to plague our land, disrupting public order in the middle of a pandemic. Eh, they are taking advantage of the situation,” he added.
Duterte assured soldiers that while there may still be challenges ahead, the government will not neglect the troops and their families. He expressed confidence that the government will prevail over any threat of terrorism and violence.
“The year ahead will bring our military many opportunities and challenges. Just remember that no matter how hard things may get, your government will always be there to support your family and your – the families by ensuring their well-being above else,” he said.
“As we march onwards this new year, I am hopeful that we will continue to eliminate these terrorist groups in Sulu for good. With your support, I remain confident that we will prevail over the challenges that confront us,” he added.
Duterte’s visit to Sulu was his second public engagement this year while the country continues to face the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the health crisis, the President had been visiting soldiers wounded in encounters.