By Aaron Recuenco
Two children died while five soldiers and two other civilians were wounded when a large band of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) attacked a community dialogue with the military in Patikul town of Sulu.
Lt. Col. Gerard Monfort, spokesman of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said the fierce clash also resulted in the death of six ASG fighters and seven of their companions were wounded during the clash in Barangay Igasan at around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Monfort said a platoon of the 6th Special Forces was in Barangay Igasan to hold a community dialogue on livelihood and infrastructure projects being planned by the government in the barangay.
During the discussion, at least 30 fully-armed Abu Sayyaf men arrived and attacked the site.
Some of the soldiers engaged the ASG fighters while most of the troopers were tasked to secure all the civilians attending the dialogue.
“Our troops stood their ground with the mission of preventing the Abu Sayyaf from advancing,” said Monfort.
It was the civilians themselves, according to Monfort, who begged the soldiers not to allow the ASG from entering their community.
“The civilians told our troops there that if the ASG successfully enter their community, their houses will certainly be burned,” said Monfort.
The worst that could happen is that the ASG may also execute some civilians for talking to the military.
At all cost
2Lt. Christian Capiz, the platoon leader, said that they could have easily withdrawn from the area to consolidate forces with reinforcing Army troopers but he said it would be too dangerous for the civilians who would be left behind.
“We could have easily withdrawn and at least go to a safer position but I could not leave behind the civilians who were panicking and the children who were already crying,” said Capiz.
The pressure to secure the community was intense for the soldiers in the area.
When Capiz was leading the maneuver, he himself saw the pitiful condition of the civilians at the height of the gun battle.
The fleeing residents did not know where to go while some were already evacuating their wounded relatives.
At the back of his mind, Capiz said he knew that the worst could happen to the civilians if the ASG would outflank them and eventually get control of the community.
“So I ordered my men to hold their ground and prevent the ASG from advancing at all cost,” said Capiz.
The ASG withdrew after 30 minutes of gunfight as they lost six of its fighters. Seven others were wounded.
When the firefight was over, two children were found dead as a result of the attack.
They were identified as one-year-old Saiful Abdun and 12-year-old Jahida Usab.
Five soldiers and two civilians were also wounded. They were taken to a military hospital for treatment.
Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said that the leaders of the ASG in Sulu were furious when they learned that the local residents were meeting with the military.
“They were furious even with their own relatives whom they accused of collaborating with us,” said Pabayo.
While the top leaders of the ASG were already killed, the group still maintains fighters in Basilan and Sulu.
Attempts to wipe them out and even lure them for peace discussion would always fail.
The ASG was notorious for high-profile kidnap-for-ransom, beheading of their captives and soldiers and even bombing activities in the past.