Tag Archive: Harold Cabunoc


More troops sent to Maguindanao

The military has deployed additional troops to Maguindanao amid continuing operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Members of the Samar-based 34th Infantry Battalion arrived in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Saturday, said Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

“The deployment marks the start of the ‘holding phase,’ where government forces will establish encampments in former lairs of the BIFF to prevent the armed lawless group from going back,” Petinglay said.

The battalion will also augment the 6th ID’s efforts in maintaining peace and security in Maguindanao, as well as parts of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Lanao del Sur, she said.

Rebel casualties rise

Meanwhile, Armed Forces public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said the number of BIFF members killed in military operations since February has reached 139.

Fifty-three members of the rebel group have been wounded and 12 more were apprehended, he said.

Cabunoc said the number of slain rebels rose from the last week’s count of 117, not because there were new clashes, but because of the military’s validation of intelligence reports.

“‘Yung ibang wounded namatay na, at saka mayroong iba na hindi listed as patay or wounded, pero patay pala. ‘Yung iba naman body parts lang, na-artillery, di agad nakilala,” he said.

Operation: Graduation

Cabunoc said operations against the BIFF members will continue even as soldiers are set to conduct peace and development activities in areas where clashes had occurred.

“Security forces will continue to conduct focused military operations against the armed threats like the BIFF and the terrorists that they have coddled,” he said.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the hunt for the remaining BIFF members and bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman will be continued until June.

Local authorities in Maguindanao, however, expressed concern over the operations’ effects, especially on students, and even called for a halt to allow graduation exercises this month.

Cabunoc said Catapang ordered the 6th ID to “facilitate” graduation exercises, by helping government and school authorities identify areas where such events can be held.

“They will jointly identify specific places, ‘yung clear na of the armed group,” he said.

Cabunoc said ongoing operations will not affect graduation ceremonies, as BIFF members have already splintered into small groups that roam in the marshlands of Maguindanao.

“Itong BIFF nag-splinter na into small groups, nasa marshlands na ang mga ito, wala nang schools doon,” he said. (John Roson)

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Alleged members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have reportedly been promising to give lands to tribal folk once the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is passed, a military official said Friday.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said the military learned of the offer through tribal leaders who had protested the MILF’s “new” camp in Brgy. Rogongon, Iligan City.

Alleged members of MILF 103rd Border Command’s 305th Guerilla Unit recruited Higaonon and Maranao tribesmen to train at the camp, then asked them for an P800 “membership fee,” Cabunoc told reporters.

“At in return diumano ay bibigyan sila ng five hectares of land once na maipasa na ‘yung BBL at ma-establish ang Bangsamoro,” he said.

A total of 85 Higaonon and Maranao tribesmen were recruited at the camp in May 2014 then 90 more were recruited last January, Cabunoc said.

Cabunoc said the offer is an “issue,” considering that tribal folk, particularly the Higaonons, own ancestral lands around the camp.

“Issue talaga ‘yun dahil yung ancestral domain ay para ‘yun sa Higaonon tribe mismo at sila ang talagang kinikilala na may karapatan sa naturang lupa, tapos may biglang magpapakilala na sila ang magbibigay ng lupa na ‘yun para sa mga nagpa-affiliate o nagpa-train. Magkakaproblema ang komunidad,” he said.

Cabunoc made the remarks after confirming that the military endorsed protests by Higaonon tribal leaders against the “new” camp in Brgy. Rogonon.

Colonel Gilbert Gapay, commander of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, had recommended that the camp be dismantled because of the tribal leaders’ protests and because it was built while the ceasefire between the government and MILF is in effect.

Cabunoc said the issue about the camp is a “challenge” to the MILF sincerity in upholding provisions of the 18-year-old ceasefire.

“Challenge ito sa kanila… Alamin nila kung sino ‘yung mga tao na ‘yun, kung talagang tao ba nila na member talaga ng Moro Islamic Liberation Front or nagpapagangap lang na member ng MILF para magkapera,” he said.

“‘Yung pag-recruit at saka pag-training at saka pag-expand ng area, bawal po ‘yun ayon sa usapang pangkapayapaan na pirmado ng government at saka MILF,” Cabunoc noted. (John Roson)

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An aide of Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullan Sahiron was shot dead in Patikul, Sulu, not by government forces but by fellow members of the bandit group, the military reported.

Killed was one Nadzmil Ali, a “trusted” man of Sahiron, Armed Forces public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said Wednesday.

A Sulu-based military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ali, whose real name is Khalid Sali, was shot dead in Brgy. Buhanginan around 4 p.m. Monday.

Sali, an Abu Sayyaf sub-commander who served as Sahiron’s “right-hand man,” was bathing at a stream when he was shot, the official said.

Sali was shot with his own gun by a nephew, who fellow Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan and Furuji Indama had “agitated,” the source said.

“Pinaghihinalaan kasi nila Sawadjaan itong si Sali na informant ng military, na kung bakit tuwing magkakasama sila ay nae-engage sila ng tropa. Parang purging ang nangyari,” said the source.

A Manila-based military official monitoring developments in Sulu said Sali was a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who got integrated into the AFP.

Sali eventually earned the rank of captain in the military, but went AWOL sometime in 2008 then joined the Abu Sayyaf, the official said.

The Sulu-based official said security forces did not see Sali’s body as it was buried in Patikul on Tuesday.

“We are validating this report regarding the killing of Nadzmil Ali, and we are also verifying the report that he was indeed the former Army captain, Khalid Sali, who went AWOL seven years ago,” Cabunoc said.

‘Infighting’

Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, AFP Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said her office has also yet to receive an official report on Sali’s killing, but admitted hearing of the supposed dissention among Abu Sayyaf sub-commanders.

“Medyo may doubt na sila sa isa’t isa. Hinihintay ko pa ang official report diyan,” she said.

The Sulu-based official revealed that Sali’s killing prompted Sawadjaan and Indama to “split” from Sahiron’s group for fear of retaliation from the Abu Sayyaf top leader.

“Ngayon umalis na sila Sawadjaan, humiwalay kasama si Furuji, alam kasi nilang babawi si Radullan. Nasa Patikul pa rin sila pero ibang area na,” the official said.

“May infighting na sa kanila. Nag-move na sila Sawadjaan at Furuji na palitan si Sahiron, ang gusto nilang ipalit si Yasser Igasan,” the source added.

Sahiron, who is said to have taken over the helm of the Abu Sayyaf after Khadaffy Janjalani was killed in 2006, is included in the U.S.’ list of most wanted terrorists, with the State Department offering up to US$ 1 million for his capture.

Igasan is also a prominent Abu Sayyaf commander who, according to intelligence reports, should have succeeded Janjalani but was not acknowledged by Sahiron because he is more of a cleric and has relatively lower skills in combat. (John Roson)

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Three Malaysian operatives of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) were reportedly spotted among Abu Sayyaf members as government troops figured in another clash with the bandit group in Patikul, Sulu, Thursday.

The military revealed the information as it announced that 14 Abu Sayyaf members have been confirmed killed and 19 more were injured in previous clashes in Patikul on Wednesday.

“There is an information” on the three Malaysian JI operatives’ presence, Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said by phone.

Elements of the 14th Scout Ranger Company clashed with the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan “with the three JI Malaysian nationals” in Sitio Kanjimaw, Brgy. Tugas, 9:15 a.m., according a a report from the AFP Joint Task Group (JTG) Sulu.

“Civilian tipsters revealed that the three Malaysian members of the Jemaah Islamiyah were coddled by the group of Sawadjaan,” AFP public affairs office chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said in a statement.

Captain Antonio Bulao, JTG Sulu public affairs officer, said the firefight with the Abu Sayyaf men and their JI cohorts lasted for almost 15 minutes.

No soldier was injured in the fighting, while the Abu Sayyaf is believed to have suffered “casualties” because blood trails were seen along the bandits’ route of withdrawal to Sitio Gabang, Brgy. Bakong, Bulao said.

Troops of the 35th Infantry Battalion later discovered an encampment that can accommodate at least 50 persons, Cabunoc said.

16 dead, 35 hurt

The fresh clash occurred after troops battled about 300 Abu Sayyaf members led by Sawadjaan in Brgy. Tanum, also in Patikul, on Wednesday.

Two skirmishes occurred in Tanum, leaving a total of 16 combatants dead and 35 others wounded from both the government and Abu Sayyaf.

Fourteen Abu Sayyaf men were killed while 19 other bandits were hurt in Wednesday’s clashes, Muyuela said.

Some of the slain bandits were identified as Berhamin Jawhari, Musar Sawadjaan, Jani Madjid, Adzmar Muhammad, Ompoy Uran, and Mussal Jawhari, according to a report from JTG Sulu.

Eight other slain bandits have yet to be identified, but they were traced to have come from Luuk, Patikul, and Indanan, according to the report.

Bandit commander hurt

Soldiers are also checking information that Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan was injured in Wednesday’s clashes, Muyuela said.

“‘Yun po talaga ang report na nakarating sa amin, injured siya (Sawadjaan), kaya parang di masyadong makagalaw itong Abu Sayyaf from their position sa Patikul,” a military official based in Sulu said.

Sawadjaan, said to be almost “equal” in stature with Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullan Sahiron, is implicated in several incidents of kindapping incidents in Sulu.

“Nakita din ‘yung grupo ni Furuji Indama, na sa Basilan talaga nakabase, na kasama nila,” the Sulu-based official said on condition of anonymity.

Wednesday’s clashes also resulted in the death of two soldiers and wounding of 16 other troopers.

Killed were Cpl. Lonell Bautista, of Cavite; and Pfc. Ervin Roquero, of Negros Occidental, Cabunoc said, citing information from JTG Sulu.

Among 16 wounded are 1Lt. Ramsel Dugan and 2Lt. Bernard Mabazza. Most of the wounded were hit by shrapnel from 40mm grenade launchers, he said.

U.S. choppers to the rescue, again

The wounded soldiers were brought from the clash site to the Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Hospital in Jolo via military helicopters, according to JTG Sulu.

They were later transferred to Zamboanga City via choppers of the U.S. military’s defense contractor, Evergreen, the task group reported.

Evergreen helicopters were also seen helping transport some of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) members who were injured in the deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25.

“Okay lang ‘yun, what is wrong with an ally helping another?” AFP spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla told reporters when asked if the U.S. assistance was legal.

“They (U.S.) are not directly involved in the operation because that will be violative of the Constitution… They share information and they assist in casualty evacuations,” Padilla added. (John Roson)

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Eight Abu Sayyaf members were either killed or injured while 13 soldiers were hurt when government troops battled a large number of bandits in Patikul, Sulu, on Friday, the military said.

The clash in Brgy. Buhanginan erupted around 11:50 a.m. and lasted for about an hour an a half, said Ensign Chester Ian Ramos, public affairs officer of the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Force Zambasulta (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi).

Eight “casualties” were monitored among the Abu Sayyaf while 13 soldiers were hurt, Ramos said in a text message.

In Manila, reports quoted AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc as saying that the eight Abu Sayyaf members were killed.

A Sulu-based military official, however, said it was not yet confirmed if the eight were indeed killed.

“May walo sa kalaban, hindi lang namin ma-validate pa kung patay pero walo ‘yun na dinala sa Sitio Kantitap, Brgy. Danag,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Ramos, based in Zamboanga City, said field reports sent by the Joint Task Group Sulu, only indicated that the Abu Sayyaf casualties were “dragged” by comrades to Sitio Kantitap.

“Hindi pa ma-ascertain kung ilan ang namatay,” Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the AFP Western Mindanao Command also based in Zamboanga, said.

Members of the 35th Infantry Battalion encountered the group of Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullan Sahiron, the Sulu-based source said.

Troops clashed with about 100 Abu Sayyaf members led by Sahiron, Hairullah Asbang, and Amlon Abtahi, according to a separate military report reaching Camp Aguinaldo.

Soldiers fired 105-millimeter Howitzer cannons while Air Force helicopter gunships were also used to support the ground troops, according to the report.

Most of the injured soldiers only suffered slight wounds and have been taken to the military camp in Jolo, the Sulu-based official said.

Members of the 35th IB, 32nd IB, and 1st Scout Ranger Battalion were conducting pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf as of Friday evening.

The fighting occurred just a day after two Abu Sayyaf members were killed and three more were wounded in a clash with members of the 32nd IB on Thursday.

A nephew of Sahiron was among those who died in that clash, which also resulted in the recovery of several high-powered firearms, the source said.

“Kahapon namatay ‘yung pamangkin niya (Sahiron) so nag-consolidate sila. Nag-pursuit naman kami tapos na-engage uli sila,” the source added. (John Roson)

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Marwan escaped in 2012 — AFP

The Armed Forces on Monday admitted that Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan escaped a military air strike in 2012, contrary to its previous claim.

Then AFP chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa did not endorse the release of the reward on the Malaysian bomb expert’s head “because there was a validated report that Marwan was able to escape unharmed,” AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

Marwan — for whose capture the U.S. government offers a whopping US$5 million — was reported by the AFP as killed after Air Force planes dropped bombs on Brgy. Duyan Kabao, Parang, Sulu, on February 2, 2012.

“The AFP announced the death of Marwan in February 2012 based on the existing intelligence data during that time,” Cabunoc said.

Cabunoc’s remarks came amid reports that Marwan had indeed been killed in the operation by members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25.

Forty-four SAF members were killed in a clash with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they withdrew from Marwan’s hideout.

“The DNA testing that is currently undertaken will prove his (Marwan) reported death in Mamasapano,” Cabunoc said. (John Roson)

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The Army provided reinforcements to members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) who were involved in a bloody clash with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, contrary to reports that it did not aid the police commandos, the military said Monday.

In its report to Armed Forces chief Gregorio Catapang, a fact-finding committee said the Army’s 6th Infantry Division organized a “quick reaction force,” AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

The force was composed of troops from different infantry units, including armored assets of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade which were deployed for the extraction of wounded SAF personnel, Cabunoc said in a statement.

“Unknown to most in the public, the 6th Infantry Division began providing support from an hour after being informed until the early morning hours of the following day,” Cabunoc said.

Members of the SAF conducted an operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao on January 25 against Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah operative Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman.

Marwan was reportedly killed in the 4 a.m. raid, but members of the SAF were engaged in a firefight by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as they withdrew.

The clash resulted in the death of 44 police commandos and wounding of 16 more, raising questions like what the Army — which has thousands of troops in Maguindanao — did to help the SAF.

“The Army was not remiss in its duties to assist and reinforce the beleaguered SAF elements in Mamasapano and did all that was possible under the circumstances when they received the request of help after the fact,” Cabunoc said.

A military source, meanwhile, said the 6th ID even had its Howitzer cannons readied and helicopters were sent by the AFP Western Mindanao Command, but these were not used because of “lack of information.”

“Nai-fly kaagad ‘yung helicopter, hindi lang alam kung san papupuntahin, nakabuo kaagad ng mga forces, hindi lang alam kung saan papupuntahin… Noong nagre-request ng kanyon, hindi naman daw makapaputok ‘yung mga forces kasi hindi naman nila alam kung nasaan ‘yung papapatukan,” the source, who requested anonymity, said.

The helicopters were eventually not flown, also to avoid an “escalation,” while cannons only fired rounds of “white phosporous” to determine the beleaguered SAF troopers’ location, the source said.

“There were appropriate preparations made as the events were unfolding, only that it appeared na limited ‘yung information [kaya] hindi talaga agad naibigay ang wastong suporta,” he added.

“The AFP categorically states that everything that could be done was done under the circumstance with due consideration to avoid fratricide and collateral damage,” Cabunoc said for his part.

The AFP will turn over all of the fact-finding committee’s findings to the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) once requested, he said.

“The AFP also appeals to the public to be circumspect on the matter and allow the BOI to finish its assigned task and await the final report of the Board,” he added. (John Roson)

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Security forces will continue the hunt for Abu Sayyaf members and will not pull out troops in Sulu even after the bandit group freed two German captives, Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

“No pullout. We’re all out to conduct law enforcement operations,” Catapang said in a text message late Friday.

The military chief made the remark when asked what will happen to operations mounted against the Abu Sayyaf after the bandits freed Germans Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen.

More than 2,000 soldiers from five Marine battalions, two Army infantry battalions, a company of Army Special Forces, and military K-9 units are in Sulu, making it the province with the biggest concentration of military forces.

The count does not include Navy sailors on vessels, Air Force pilots manning combat helicopters, and “force multipliers” comprised of armed civilian volunteers.

The Abu Sayyaf, according to the military, has an estimated armed strength of about 400 and an undetermined number of supporters.

Catapang, in a visit to Sulu last Sunday, said the bandit group was still holding some 15 hostages, of whom nine are foreigners including Okonek and Dielen.

Okonek, who the Abu Sayyaf had threatened to behead Friday afternoon, was freed along with Dielen in Patikul town 8:50 p.m. the same day, Catapang said.

The Germans, abducted by Abu Sayyaf men in waters between Palawan and Borneo on April 25, were released by their captors in Brgy. Kaday Mapallam, Chief Supt. Noel delos Reyes, director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police, said in a separate text message.

Okonek and Dielen were later brought to the 2nd Marine Brigade headquarters in Camp Teodulfo Bautista, Brgy. Busbus, Jolo, for medical attention, Delos Reyes said.

Military and police officials confirmed the release about an hour after Abu Rami, spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf, announced it in an interview by a radio station in Zamboanga City.

“Walang labis, walang kulang,” Abu Rami said when asked if ransom was paid. The Abu Sayyaf had demanded P250 million in exchange for the Germans.

Following their release, Okonek and Dielen were transported to Zamboanga City on a Navy vessel. 

Okonek, in his 70s, appeared thin, was limping, and had a dextrose on during his stay at the Navy office in Majini Pier, Zamboanga, video clips provided by the AFP Western Mindanao Command showed.

Okonek and Dielen were flown to Manila hours later, and arrived at the Villamor Air Base around 6:45 a.m. Saturday, AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said.

“The Embassy of Germany made arrangements for this and has taken custody of them,” Tutaan said.

The military previously said that the German government had been negotiating for Okonek and Dielen’s release.

Tutaan and other military officials, however, could not confirm whether money had indeed exchanged hands.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs chief, insisted that “military pressure” forced the Abu Sayyaf to free the Germans.

“Kung may nagbayad diyan, hindi namin alam, kung German ba ‘yan o ano, basta sa side namin hindi kami nakipag-negotiate sa kanila, nag-deploy kami ng tropa,” he told reporters.

Cabunoc confirmed an earlier radio report that soldiers had surrounded the bandits holding Okonek.

“As early as kahapon (Friday), madaling-araw pa, pinalibutan namin… may special operations, may mga snipers tayo dun pero may utos din kasi na i-ensure na hindi mabaril ‘yung hostage,” he said.

Cabunoc said pursuit operations are now ongoing to capture Abu Sayyaf members and recover their remaining captives.

“We are pursuing them, full scale ang deployment dahil ang gusto ni chief of staff ay ipakita din naman ng Armed Forces na hindi lang naman Germans ang dahilan at nagdeploy tayo, we are thinking about the 10 other hostages as well,” he said. (John Roson)

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The military plans to send more troops to Basilan in the next few days to run after Abu Sayyaf members and other lawless elements involved in several incidents that have already left more than 20 people dead this month.

“Ang plano namin is to move in more troops, in the coming days magmo-move kami immediately ng one infantry battalion doon,” Maj. Gen. Rainier Cruz, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said in a phone interview.

A battalion, in military parlance, comprises about 500 soldiers. The 64th Infantry Battalion (64th IB) is expected to arrive in Basilan next week from Lanao del Sur, Cruz said.

Aside from the 64th IB, another battalion will be sent to Basilan next month to replace a unit there, he said.

Cruz made the remarks a day after members of the Army’s elite Scout Rangers figured in clashes with Abu Sayyaf members and other lawless elements in Sumisip.

19 dead in clashes

The clashes left 10 dead and 17 wounded soldiers, Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said.

Nine have been confirmed killed and at least seven were wounded among the “lawless elements,” he said.

Major Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesman, identified the slain soldiers as Pfc. Segundiano Tamayo Jr., Pfc. Rey Evangelista, Pfc. Arnold Coresis, Pfc. Cleto Algayan, Pfc. Kennith John Maribao, Pfc. Jose Marvin Talamante, Pfc. Mark Ocampo, Pfc. Arwin Martinez, Cpl. Jerry Areglado, and Pfc. Erwin Alerta.

Fatalities on the enemy side were identified as Ustadz Hassan Asnawi, his son Jumaidi Asnawi, Nurham Asnawi, Juhair Aliman, Kaobut Mastul, Hudjata Marain, Meloy Patpi, a certain Balong, and a still unidentified man from Tumahubong.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and AFP chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa visited the wounded soldiers at the Zamboanga Hospital and Camp Navarro Station Hospital, AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said.

Families of the slain and wounded troopers will be given assistance, he said.

Four officers, who are among the wounded, opted to stay in Basilan to join pursuit operations once they have recovered, Burgos said.

Lapses seen

Cruz said the troops may have committed lapses during the clashes, hence the big number of casualties.

“Na-underestimate natin ‘yung capability ng kabila. Number one, Ramadan hindi dapat sila nago-operate pero medyo mas malaki ang tropa nila at saka may kaunting lapses tayo dun sa ambush,” he said.

The troops faced more than 100 lawless elements, Burgos said.

Earlier, 1st ID spokesman Capt. Albert Caber said two soldiers were killed when Abu Sayyaf members ambushed members of the 10th Scout Ranger Company and 32nd Infantry Battalion.

The troops were attacked around 3 p.m. while on the way to reinforce a detachment in Brgy. Upper Cabengbeng, which the bandits “harassed” an hour earlier, he said.

Operation deliberate

Cruz said Thursday’s clashes resulted from an operation purposely launched against those who ambushed a truck of the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Integrated Development Cooperative (Tarbidc) last July 11. The ambush left six people dead and 22 others injured.

“Para matapos na ‘yung problema natin dito, hinanap nung tropa saka nung mga Tarbidc ‘yung pinanggagalingan ng problema dun sa pag-ambush sa kanila, so dun nga sa Upper Cabengbeng nakita,” he said.

“Itong mga ito yung nagnanakaw ng mga rubber sap sa rubber plantation ng Tarbidc. Combination ito ng Abu Sayyaf saka lawless elements na gustong makalibre ng product nung rubber trees doon,” Cruz said. (John Roson)

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This story has been updated, see update here

(Update) Twelve government soldiers and at least five Abu Sayyaf members were killed in several hours of fighting in Sumisip, Basilan, Thursday, military officials said.

Major Gen. Rainier Cruz, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said a clash erupted around 7:30 a.m. while members of the 11th Scout Ranger Company (11th SRC) were conducting operations in Brgy. Upper Cabengbeng.

Fifty members of the 11th SRC, led by Capt. Rholie Villaluna, encountered an undetermined number of fully-armed men, Cruz said.

Capt. Albert Caber, spokesman of the 1st ID, said the armed men are the same ones who ambushed a truck of the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Integrated Development Cooperative (Tarbidc) in Brgy. Sapah Bulak, also in Sumisip, last July 11.

Six people, mostly rubber tappers, were killed and 22 others were wounded in the ambush.

Eight soldiers and Abu Sayyaf members were killed in the clash while at least 16 fighters from two sides were hurt, Caber said.

Reinforcements ambushed

Meanwhile, Caber said four more soldiers were killed and two others were wounded as Abu Sayyaf gunmen ambushed members of the 10th Scout Ranger Company and 32nd Infantry Battalion.

The soldiers were attacked around 3 p.m. while on the way to reinforce a detachment in Brgy. Upper Cabengbeng, which the bandits “harassed” around 1:30 p.m., he said.

Sporadic fighting went on after the ambush, he said, adding that the Special Forces coordinated with higher offices for the possible deployment of air assets.

The military has yet to release names of the slain soldiers, but identified the killed Abu Sayyaf gunmen as Juhair Aliman alias Botong, Kabot Mastul, Hudjata Marain alias Elong, Humaydi Ustadz Hasan, and a certain Halid.

On Wednesday morning, a group of about 20 suspected Abu Sayyaf members also attacked a patrol base of soldiers and militiamen guarding Tarbidc, in Brgy. Cabengbeng. No casualties were reported on both sides.

Major Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesman, said operations against the bandits will continue.

“We could not allow the criminals to disturb the peace, targeting innocent civilians in a mixed Muslim-Christian community in Tumahubong village. Banditry has no place in a civilized world,” he said.

Authorities said that the Abu Sayyaf’s attack on Tarbidc earlier this month was due to the co-operative’s failure to give the “protection fee” that the group was demanding. (John Roson)

This story has been updated, see update here

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