Two Coast Guard men held hostage by Abu Sayyaf bandits sprinted through gunfire to freedom as elite Army Scout Rangers raided the extremists’ hideout, in Indanan, Sulu, killing 15 of them, the Philippine Army said on Thursday.
Seaman 1st Class Gringo Villaruz and Seaman 2nd Class Allan Pagaling slipped separately from the Abu Sayyaf camp on Wednesday night and raced through the jungle as their captors engaged in a gun battle with an elite military force, said military spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato.
“Apparently at the height of the encounter, the two Coast Guard men were able to flee,” he told reporters.
The Philippine Navy said Pagaling and Villaluz are safe.
The men, who were abducted in May along with another hostage who was later beheaded, sought refuge at a village about 1.5 kilometers away, said Capt. Antonio Bulao, spokesman for the unit involved in the clash.
Found an hour apart at the vicinity of Barangay Buansa in Indanan, Sulu, they did not know of each other’s escape until they saw one another on Thursday at a military hospital, where they were treated for bruises, he said.
Yasser Igasan, one of the Abu Sayyaf’s most senior leaders, was believed to have escaped after the firefight, Bulao added.
Detoyato said the two Coast Guard personnel narrated to the military that they managed to escape from their captors at the height of the heavy firefight with soldiers from the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion at Sitio Marang in Barangay Buansa on Wednesday.
Fifteen Abu Sayyaf gunmen were killed, but the remains of only five were recovered as the rest were carried away by their comrades, he added.
Several soldiers sustained minor injuries.
Ten of the dead were identified as Joy Juliyon, Arapat Bagadi, a certain Majindi, Sarman Aidarud, one Mandi, Arapat Hadjiri, Dunni Ammin, Salman Wahid, Majindi Kamlun and Runni Said.
The wounded bandits were Abdel dela Cruz, Sherwin dela Cruz, one Mawalil, a ceratin Duni and Bidah, Lasis Jihili and Kapatud Sarman.
According to Capt. Roy Trinidad, seven soldiers were injured in the clash.
As many as 200 Abu Sayyaf members were involved in the fighting that was so fierce the military had to use artillery to drive the extremists back, Detoyato said.
“It was a long fight, one hour and 35 minutes. That is unusual because they normally disengage immediately,” he observed, without offering a theory for the change in tactic.
Bulao said clearing operations are continuing as the military is having difficulty maneuvering in the area, which is within a community of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Based on a statement of the rescued Coast Guard personnel, he added, the bandits are still holding four more hostages.
The Army this week launched a risky attempt to rescue 11 hostages — including Villaruz and Pagaling as well as two Malaysians, a Dutchman and a South Korean — after the militants beheaded a 12th captive, Rodolfo Boligao.
Malacañang on Thursday commended the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for their operations to pursue members of the Abu Sayyaf.
“We commend the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Task Force Sulu for conducting operations that have led to the fleeing from captivity of two Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel, namely, Seaman First Class Rodlyn Pagaling and Seaman Second Class Gringo Villaruz,” Communications Secretary Hermino Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
“With the support of the citizenry, government troops have tracked and raided the known lairs of the Abu Sayyaf Group [ASG],” he added.
“According to the AFP, military operations are ongoing to secure the safety of other hostages being held captive by the ASG,” Coloma said.
The two Coast Guard men were abducted last May 4 near the port area of Barangay Aliguay in Dapitan City, some 250 kilometers from Jolo, in May along with Boligao, a barangay (village) captain.
All three were later shown shirtless and blindfolded in videos that circulated on social media, with a masked person behind them menacingly holding a machete to their necks.
The Abu Sayyaf had demanded P10 million for their freedom.
Boligao’s decapitated remains were found on a dark Jolo highway last week after the government rejected the Abu Sayyaf’s unspecified ransom demand.
Bulao said Villaruz and Pagaling told authorities four other hostages were held with them, including a Malaysian and a South Korean.
He added that the military would continue efforts to free all the hostages.
Separate fighting in neighboring Basilan island on Wednesday left five Abu Sayyaf members and one soldier killed, the military said.
With AFP and PNA