In this October 2011 file photo, President Aquino pays his respects to some of the 13 soldiers killed by terrorists in Basilan province. Another grim chapter was added to Basilan's violent history last weekend when 18 soldiers were killed in fierce battles with the Abu Sayyaf. The President will fly to Zamboanga City to visit some of the 56 injured survivors of the carnage. MALACANANG PHOTO BUREAU
Juanita Bancairin can barely stifle a sob as she ponders the tragedy that befell her son, Corporal Rodolfo Bancairin, one of the 18 soldiers slain by the Abu Sayyaf terror group in Basilan last weekend.
His face is barely recognizable, his head having been shattered by bullets, which also shredded parts of his arms and chest.
"It's so painful. He has two small children, and their mother is jobless," Juanita told News5.
Bancairin served 16 years in the Army, a period that saw him assigned several times in the strife-torn Sulu and Basilan areas.
Speaking in the dialect, Juanita said "all the rebels must be eliminated, because so many innocent lives are being dragged into the fray."
The Western Mindanao Command said that besides the 18 soldiers killed by the ASG, 56 others were wounded in pitched battles with the terrorist group, some of whose leaders have pledged "loyalty" to the ISIS - a claim which the government doubts.
An expert believes that, considering the huge blow dealt the government side, the soldiers might have been up not just against the Abu Sayyaf but the ISIS as well.In the assessment that analyst Rohan Gunaratna shared with News5, "ISIS Basilan is determined to expand; ISIS Basilan wants to fight and expand their territory in the Sulu archipelago and spread it to southern Mindanao and also to Samar region."
The government, he said, should thus pour in more resources to combat this threat. It should "station a special operations commander in Basilan and ensure that any group that has pledged allegiance to IS (Islamic State) is contained, isolated, and eliminated."
The AFP, however, continues to tread warily on claims of ISIS affiliation, believing that many homegrown terrorist groups seeking attention or wishing to project themselves as larger than they are will identify with IS to do so.
Major Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said: "ISIS is well known in the world right now, so there are some groups that would like to be affiliated with them because they would like to ride on the fame of the group. Maybe [ASG leader] Isnilon Hapilon would like to be recognized by ISIS but ISIS does not recognize this group. There is no direct link, direct proof that Isnilon Hapilon is being recognized by the ISIS."
For his part, Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. issued this statement on behalf of Malacañang Palace: "We understand the grief and pain of the widows and bereaved families of our brave soldiers who fought courageously and died in line of duty."
President Benigno Aquino III is scheduled to visit the wounded soldiers in Zamboanga Wednesday (April 13).
HERE'S VIDEO REPORT BY NEWS5'S KAYE IMSON: