Flags flown at half-mast as 15 soldiers die in Sulu fighting PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 August 2016 11:58

Flags in all military camps nationwide were flown at half-mast Tuesday to honor the 15 soldiers killed in the military offensive ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte against the Abu Sayyaf which has entered its fifth day Tuesday in the troubled province of Sulu.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City released to local media a field report that says 15 army troops, including an officer, were killed in a fierce gunbattle Monday in the Abu Sayyaf stronghold town of Patikul, less than 10 kilometers from Jolo, the capital of Sulu province.

PFC Jison Falcasantos of Zamboanga City was one of two soldiers beheaded by Aby Sayyaf fighters.

The report said among those killed in the clash which erupted at 4:30 p.m. in the village of Maligay, was an army officer, who identity aswell as those of the other fatalities have been witthheld pending notifification of their families.

In Manila, Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Public Affairs Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said Tuesday that troops from the Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion and 21st Infantry Battalion engaged Monday in fierce gunbatte with “more or less 120 heavily armed terrorists”.

Arevalo said the number of casualties  on the Abu Sayyaf side has yet to be determined.

Army soldiers from other areas immediately rushed to the scene to pursue withdrawing terrorists, while others provided blocking forces.

“(It is) part of our standard practice and tradition in the Armed Forces of the Philippines everytime our soldiers fell in battle doing their mission or constitutional mandate,” said Arevalo.

Placing all flag at half-mast also indicates that the rest of the military is grieving with the loved and families of the slain troopers, he added.

“(All soldiers are well) aware of the inherent risk of their profession, they are aware they can get wounded or killed doing their mission,” Arevalo stressed.

Aside from the 15 dead in Monday’s 4:30 p.m. clash with the ISIS-linked group at Sitio Kan Jalul, Barangay Maligay, Patikul, 12  other soldiers were wounded in the gunbattle that lasted until 6 p.m.

All of the fallen and wounded troopers were from the 35th and 21st Infantry Battalions and all were from Sulu and Mindanao.

Asked whether President Rodrigo Duterte is planning to visit the fallen troopers, Arevalo said they would leave the matter to the Chief Executive and Malacanang.

“We would like to leave that to the President and to Malacanang, but so far, if you would look at his practice, (President Duterte is known) to visit, commiserate and condole with the families and relatives of those who are slain or who are killed in action while performing their duty. We supposed that he will be also doing the same this time,” he added.

“As we gaze at the national flag that flies at half mast anew, soldiers knew that one too many hero among them has again offered his life—that others may live,” GMA News quoted AFP General Ricardo Visaya, AFP Chief of Staff, as saying

Visaya underlined that the campaign against the group which recently pledged allegiance to Daesh will continue despite Monday’s heavy casualty from the government side.

“There may still be casualties along the way as we advance this solemn duty to eradicate these bandits and terrorists of 25 years, but we will not stop until we rid our country of the menace this ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) brings to the world,” Visaya said.

On Monday the military said that the bodies of at least 16 Abu Sayyaf fighters have been recovered in Patikul and Talipao towns, Sulu  after a series of firefights starting Friday.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander, Western Mindanao Command, told ABS-CBN News the Abu Sayyaf death toll inthe latest skirmishes has climed  to 22.

The slain militants include three alleged sub-commanders — Mohammad Said alias Ama Maas, Latip Sapii, and Sairulla Asbang, Dela Cruz said.

Delas Cruz quoted a report from the Joint Task Group Sulu  as saying three of the bodies were recovered from a shallow grave in one of the remote villages of Talipao.

Local residents confirmed the bodies belong to Abu Sayyaf fighters.

In the first encounter Friday last week, 17 soldiers have been wounded.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday that five more battalions will be deployed in Sulu to run after the Abu Sayyaf as ordered by President Duterte,

“We are going to full force .... all out operations against them (ASG). We are adding five battalions, or about 2,500 people. Sulu,” Lorenzana told reporters after the National Heroes Day ceremonies at the Heroes Cemetery in Manila.

Duterte last week ordered the military to destroy the group after it beheaded an 18-year-old hostage in Sulu.

Visaya rallied the troops to continue pursuing the Abu Sayyaf . “We have all the time. Keep the pressure on the enemy until they wear out. Just ensure they won’t be able to leave the island and we will be triumphant in the end,” he said.

President Duterte has already ruled out any peace talks with the group.

“I am very sorry to say but there will be no peace talks about these things with the Abu Sayyaf,” he said on August 1.

“I will not deal with persons with extreme brutality. There is no redeeming factor or reason for me to sit down and talk with criminals,” Duterte said,