STATE troops have pressed a manhunt for the Abu Sayyaf bandits who killed at least 18 soldiers during a fierce clash in Basilan over the weekend.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to pursue without let-up the bandits who also injured more than 50 soldiers, Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on Monday.
The order, Coloma added, was given directly to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri who were summoned to a meeting on Sunday night.
“Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri informed President Aquino last night on the progress of continuing operations of the AFP against Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements in Basilan after their return from Zamboanga City yesterday [Sunday],” he told reporters.
The official gave no further details about the meeting except that the deadly clash was an offshoot of intensified military operations against the ASG.
“Both officials informed the President that pursuit operations are still being conducted and that the troops are fully equipped and adequately supported,” Coloma said.
Also killed in the recent encounter were Moroccan terror suspect Mohammad Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.
The Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) said three other bandits died on Saturday in the gunbattle that lasted 10 hours in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. One was identified as rebel commander Radzmil Jannatul.
Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also on Monday consoled with the families of the slain soldiers.
“We also pray for the recovery of the more than 50 soldiers who were wounded in the same encounter. Our thoughts and prayers are with our soldiers and their families, and in this time of mourning we would like to express our deepest condolences to those who have lost their loved ones to an act of cowardice committed by a terror group that has brought nothing to our shores but death and grief,” he said.
What happened in Basilan, Hataman said, was a tragedy that “reminds us that there are those who among us who still tread the path of terror, and those who would stop at nothing to breed hatred and suffering among our people.”
WITH AL JACINTO