ZAMBOANGA CITY: Abu Sayyaf rebels killed three Army soldiers in fierce clashes in southern Philippines where security forces are battling the notorious group tied to the Islamic State, the military said Sunday.
The military said 17 other soldiers were wounded in fighting that erupted on Saturday in Patikul town in Sulu, one of five provinces in the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
There was no report of Abu Sayyaf casualties in the battle that lasted more than two hours. Troops were tracking down the rebels still holding over two dozen Malaysian and Indonesian sailors when they ran into a huge group of gunmen, believed to be under senior Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.
The fighting was so fierce that the military scrambled to send more soldiers to the area. They also fired artillery on suspected Abu Sayyaf positions in Patikul’s hinterlands, where the gunmen broke into smaller groups and then engaged the soldiers.
Security forces were also pursuing another faction of Abu Sayyaf rebels in nearby Basilan, also in the autonomous region, who are believed to be holding six Vietnamese sailors they kidnapped on November 11 at sea while their cargo ship MV Royal 16 carrying cement was sailing for Davao City.
The crewmen have been identified as Do Trung Hieu, Hoang Vo, Tran Khac Dung, Huang Trung Thong and Huang Van Hai and its captain, Pham Min Tuan.
On Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was satisfied with the performance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) amid offensives versus the terrorist Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group.
The President lauded the soldiers in remarks during a visit to the AFP Northern Luzon Command at Camp Servillano Aquino in Tarlac City.
“I do not even project a timeline on when we can have peace. You have to continue fighting, but let me tell you about the gratitude of the Filipino people. I know, because I am on the ground. The Filipino are happy with what you do. I am more than satisfied with your performance,” Duterte said.
The President issued Executive Order (EO) 3 in October, increasing the combat duty pay of uniformed personnel to P3,000 a month from P500 and that of police forces to P3,000 monthly from P340.
EO 3 also hikes the security forces’ combat incentive pay to P300 to P3,000 monthly from P150 to P1,500.
The budget needed for the pay increases is P12 billion.
“As long as we have money available, anything that you ask…I’ll always say okay because I want you to be on tip-top condition; with high morale. Your commander in chief got your back,” Duterte said.
“As long as you do your work, it’s on me. I will have to assume all responsibility. That is my guarantee. Just do your job well. These talks of you facing cases, forget it,” Duterte added.