ARMED Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista on Monday said the morale of the 125,000-strong military organization remains high despite the series of setbacks it suffered at the hands of communist insurgents and the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Bautista said the latest encounter between members of the Philippine Marines’ Force Recon Class-18 and the ASG that left a young lieutenant and six enlisted personnel dead would not bar the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from fulfilling its mandate.
“The morale of our people continues to be high. This is an incident which will not deter our people from performing their mandate of protecting the people and the state, the security and sovereignty of the state, and the national territory,” Bautista told reporters following ceremonies honoring the seven fallen soldiers at the Army’s headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
Bautista said he has ordered massive pursuit operations against the perpetrators.
He said the Marines’ Recon Class-18 were on a test mission to rescue the wife of a soldier who was earlier abducted by the bandits when the ASG attacked them last Saturday in Barangay Tugas in Patikul town, Sulu.
Earlier this month, the New People’s Army (NPA) also engaged the military in at least three separate encounters in Albay, Surigao del Norte and Misamis Oriental that left four soldiers and two rebels dead.
According to the AFP, almost 400 people, majority of them civilians, have been killed in encounters between the NPA and government forces and other related atrocities since 2011 following the implementation of its new anti-insurgency strategy.
From 2011 up to the first quarter of 2013, insurgency-related atrocities claimed a total of 383 lives, including those of 158 civilians.
A total of 147 soldiers and military officers were also killed during the said period, followed by members of the Civilian Active Auxiliary (CAA) with 52 and 26 policemen.
However, there were no figures on the number of casualties on the NPA side.
Fighting has subsided in the province since last Saturday’s encounter.
It was not immediately known if there were members of the Moro National Liberation Front who took part in the attack.
The military failed in its campaign to rid the province of Abu Sayyaf because of lack of support from the civilians, who do not trust soldiers for committing various human rights violations, among others.
It was not known if the AFP would order an investigation into the ambush of the soldiers who were under Col. Jose Joriel Cenabre, commander of military forces in Sulu, to determine whether there were lapses in the security operation that led to the deaths of the marines.
In 2011, Abu Sayyaf and Moro rebels also killed 19 soldiers who were sent on a test mission in Basilan province. The soldiers were ambushed in the town of Al-Barka.
Four officers from the Philippine Army underwent court martial proceedings in connection with the ambush. They were accused of violating Article 84 (Willful or Negligent Loss, Damage or Wrongful Disposition); Article 96 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman); and Article 97 (Disorders and Neglects to the Prejudice of Good Order and Military Discipline) of the Articles of War.
On Monday, Marine Commandant Brig. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo personally led the recognition of the soldiers’ heroism, gallantry and for sacrificing their lives in service of the country.
The bodies were flown from Edwin Andrews Airbase in Zamboanga City via C-130 on Sunday.
Marine spokesman Lt. Vladimir Cabrera identified the fallen soldiers as 2nd Lt. Alfredo Lorin, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 2011, Corporal Jay Alasain, Private First Class (PFC) Andres Bogwana, PFC Rene Gare, PFC Jayson Durante, PFC Dominador Sabejon and PFC Roxas Pizarro.
Cabrera said the families of the slain soldiers will receive monetary, housing and scholarship benefits.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was at the Philippine Marines Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, said apart from the housing assistance, he will also check if the government could immediately provide the families the benefits under the Alay sa Kawal program.
WITH A REPORT FROM RITCHIE A. HORARIO