The military has sealed off an island in Sulu province following an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf rebels that resulted in the killing of at least seven bandits and a Marine trooper while 10 other terrorists were captured.
Rear Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, dispatched air and naval assets to Minis Island in Patikul town to seal the area following the encounter between elements 62nd Marine Company and the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) Wednesday.
Medina also deployed helicopters to conduct close air support to the ground troops.
Seven ASG bandits were killed while 10 others were captured. A Marine was also killed while three others were wounded.
Reports said the government troops, led by Col. Armel Tolato, responded to reports received from Joint Task Force Sulu on the sightings of bandits in the area.
The Navy ship, BRP Juan Magluyan (PC 392) and BRP Waray (LC288) which serve as Command and Control Platform, also sailed to the encounter site with the Special Operations Platoon 1 of Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 as reinforcement.
Navy leads ops
A Navy helicopter also conducted close air support during the operation, augmented by multi-purpose attack craft with a Navy Seal Team and patrol gunboat of Navy-Special Operations Unit.
“Sea denial is now being enforced by the Fleet-Marine team over the sea waters of Minis Island to avoid escape and enemy reinforcement while Naval Special Operations Unit and Marine Special Operations Unit hunt down the ASG in the mangrove area of the island,” Medina said.
Medina added the neutralization of the ASG was a result of the commitment and continued monitoring activity of the government troops in the Western Mindanao area of responsibility.
“The public is assured that the AFP, particularly the Fleet-Marine troops will continue to exercise vigilance in the ZAMBASULTA (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) area to pre-empt any activities brought by the Abu Sayyaf rebels and other lawless terrorist groups that threaten the peace, stability and development in the area,” he said.
The encounter happened after President Duterte ordered the activation of an Army division dedicated to Sulu province to finally defeat the ASG which continued to hold several individuals, including foreign nationals, as hostages.
The AFP, meanwhile, said it remains firm against endorsing a suspension of military operations (SoMO) despite the communist rebels’ unilateral declaration of ceasefire for the holidays.
In a radio interview, AFP spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato said the New People’s Army (NPA) would only use the truce for is advantage.
To recall, the NPA said it will stand by a unilateral ceasefire that it declared last week despite an order for them to heighten attacks against government security forces.
In a statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) added the NPA would “strictly” comply with its five-day ceasefire declaration.
No stand down order
But Detoyato stressed the military will not stand down and will remain on alert.
“If we will issue a SoMO this Christmas and New Year, it will be used by the CPP and the NPA as an advantage to regroup, rearm and reposition,” Detoyato said. “Past years’ ceasefire initiatives have taught us that the communist rebels are not serious and would just use the occasion for their advantage.”
“We are not inclined to recommend a ceasefire,” he added.
Earlier, the NPA had declared a unilateral ceasefire for the holidays. However, the AFP did not buy the rebels’ “tactic.”
But early this week, the NPA ordered its fighters to intensify tactical offensives across the country on the heels of the extension by Congress of the martial rule over Mindanao, for another 12 months.
“SoMO is not necessary this time, especially that the military needs to preserve its gains against the NPA,” Detoyato said. “The AFP is ordered to harden vulnerable targets by the rebels. The military has long shifted to focused military operation from search and destroy.”
“Focused military operation is intelligence-driven, with the help of the people and the local government units,” he added.
In an interview last week, Detoyato said the government does not need to resume the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the CPP, considering that localized peace talks are taking place.
With Elmer N. Manuel