ZAMBOANGA City: President Benigno Aquino 3rd visited the wake of one of the 18 soldiers killed by Abu Sayyaf rebels on Wednesday and expressed his sympathies to the families of the other soldiers killed in fierce clashes in Basilan last week.
Aquino condoled with the family of Cpl. Rodelio Bangcarin, 40.
A member of the Army, Bangcarin left behind his wife and two children aged 12 and three. Bangcarin has served the military for 16 years.
Security was tight during Aquino’s visit here and journalists were not allowed to interview the President.
He President, accompanied by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, awarded medals to the soldiers when he checked on the condition of 42 of the 56 injured soldiers confined at the Camp Navarro General Hospital in the city. He later met with some of the soldiers’ families at the Edwin Andrews Airbase.
Families of the slain soldiers were told not to talk to journalists.
But a relative of one of the fallen troops told reporters that Aquino expressed his apologies for what happened in Basilan.
“He said sorry,” said Rosalinda Dominguez, mother-in-law of slain Private First Class Dorren Aspurias from Baliaguian, Zamboanga del Norte.
Dominguez said she accepted the President’s “sincere apology.”
“Hindi kami galit. Tulungan nya lang ang pamilya ng mga nasawi para wala silang problema. Tanggap naman namin ang nangyari [We’re not angry. He should help the families of the slain soldiers. We have accepted the tragedy],” she said.
Defense spokesman Peter Galvez said Aquino cited the gallantry of the slain soldiers and vowed an investigation of the incident.
“The President opened and ended the dialogue with an expression of sympathy for the families’ loss, saying he felt for them,” Galvez said.
“The President told the families that we are facing a war, our soldiers are the ones who are fighting the enemies of the country, our soldiers are those in the frontlines in securing peace in our land,” he added.
Galvez said Aquino told the families that operations against the Abu Sayyaf are continuing.
“Matagal nang problema ito. Marami nang naperwisyong buhay. Gusto ko nang tapusin ito [This has gone on long enough. Many lives have been lost. I want to end this],” the Defense spokesman quoted Aquino, who left without giving a statement.
Major General Gerardi Barrientos Jr., commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said 28 Abu Sayyaf fighters have been killed in pursuit operations since Saturday.
Barrientos added that the President assured families of the wounded soldiers that they will get financial help.
He said each family will get at least P660,000. This includes P250,000 from the Office of the President, remuneration cash of P180,000, P50,000 from the Mutual Benefit Association’s License, P100,000 from the Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative for members and burial expenses of P80,000.
More than 50 soldiers were wounded in recent fighting with the Abu Sayyaf in Tipo-Tipo town where the military killed Moroccan bomb expert Mohammad Khattab and Ubaida Isnilon, son of rebel leader Isnilon Hapilon.
WITH AL JACINTO