Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members ambushed military and police forces in Zamboanga Sibugay Thursday night, leaving seven soldiers and policemen dead and at least eight others wounded, officials said.

Colonel Santiago Baluyot, Army 102nd Brigade commander, said the attacks prompted the military to raise the “red alert” status in the province.

According to the official, the first attack occurred past 7 p.m. while convoy of his men and some members of the 9th Field Artillery Battalion (9FAB) was passing through Brgy. Gulayon, Alicia, on the way to their headquarters in Ipil.

“Nagdala lang ‘yun (convoy) ng tropa, tapos bumalik na sila sa headquarters namin, medyo maliblib na lugar ‘yun, dun sila tinambangan,” Baluyot said in a phone interview.

An undetermined number of armed men fired upon the M35 and KM450 trucks carrying the soldiers, so the troops retaliated and called for reinforcements, according to Capt. Arthur Eamiguel, Army 1st Infantry Division spokesman.

“Nag-reinforce ang elements ng Division Reconnaissance Company kaya nag-disengage ang nang-ambush… suspected MILF ang ambushers,” Eamiguel said in a text message shortly after the incident.

Baluyot declined to name those killed, but a police report identified three of them as Msgt. Saidale Dimasar, Tsgt. Jin-nurain Ajijul, and Cpl. Reynaldo Salazar.

Six soldiers, including a certain 1lt. Angcog of the 9FAB, were wounded, Eamiguel said.

One Sgt. Antonio Gerangue was initially reported as missing, but Baluyot said the soldier was found Friday morning.

“Napahiwalay lang siya, lumabas na siya at ‘yung mga sugatan naidala na kaagad kaninang madaling araw sa Zamboanga City,” the military official said.

Chief Superintendent Elpidio de Asis, Zamboanga Peninsula regional police director, said the attack prompted policemen and soldiers in nearby towns to conduct patrols but suspected MILF members staged another ambush in Kabasalan around 11 p.m., leaving three cops, including an officer, dead.

Killed were Insp. Jose Calibugar, SPO1 Lito Arcenal, and a certain PO2 Tayan. Those injured were identified as Pfc. Hermes Sagario of the Army 53rd Infantry Battalion and a PO1 Capitana of the Kabasalan Police.

“Mayroon kasing initial na naambush sa Alicia so ‘yung lahat ng mga station para mai-strengthen, nag-red alert. Ang lapit lang nung ambush mga 1.5 [kilometers] lang from the police station ‘yung pinangyarihan, along the National Highway pa,” De Asis said

The ambuscades occurred just five days after members of the 53rd IB and police units clashed with MILF members in Sitio Lukarang, Brgy. Labatan, of neighboring Payao town.

Three members of the 53rd IB and a militiaman were injured in that fighting.

On Tuesday, 19 Army troopers were killed in a clash with MILF members in Basilan province, just off the Zamboanga Peninsula. (John Roson)

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