ZAMBOANGA CITY — Three of the 11 soldiers killed in a fierce gunfight with Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Patikul, Sulu, on Friday (April 17) were hacked.
According to Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command chief, the three soldiers were finished off by the terrorists that way even as they also tried to behead one officer who was killed, 1st Lt. Rogelio Deligero Jr.
“Their faces are beyond recognition,” a somber Sobejana told the Inquirer.
A company of soldiers was deployed to pursue top Abu leader Radullan Sahiron and his close aide Hatib Sawadjaan when they encountered more than 40 men in Sitio Bud Lubong of Barangay Danag in Patikul town at around 3 p.m. on Friday.
The clash happened within the so-called Sinumaan complex, known to be Sahiron’s lair.
Sobejana, who flew to Sulu on Saturday, said the soldiers were at a disadvantaged position as they were on low-ground while the enemy was on high ground.
When the gunfight ensued, the soldiers and Abu Sayyaf members were exchanging gunfires close to each other, Sobejana added.
In the course of the heavy encounter, Sobejana said the unit led by Deligero was the hardest hit.
“Our soldiers have to maneuver towards a vantage position. Unfortunately, the enemy was able to close in on some of them, hence they were killed in action,” Sobejana further said.
Sobejana acknowledged that this is the first time since mid-2019 that soldiers were on a disadvantaged position in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf group.
“We were always at an upper hand,” he noted.
Sobejana said despite the setback, the troops in Sulu “are still well-motivated” to continue the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf that was stepped up in July 2019, following the series of suicide bombing attacks, first inside the Jolo cathedral and then at a military detachment in Indanan town.
“We reassessed the security situation and we saw that there is a need to readjust especially in as far as the concept of operation is concerned,” Sobejana revealed.
On Saturday afternoon, a military aircraft ferried the bodies of eight fallen soldiers from Northern Luzon to Manila where a funeral honor was expected to be held.
Three bodies will be flown separately: one in Calbayog for Deligero, another one in Davao, bound for Bukidnon, and the last one in Cotabato, bound for Maguindanao.
Sobejana said the caskets of three soldiers who were hacked, among them Deligero, will remain closed.
Of the 14 wounded soldiers, two were brought to the Zamboanga Peninsula Medical Center in Zamboanga City and 12 are being treated inside the Trauma Hospital of Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu.
The country’s military leadership mourned the loss of the 11 soldiers, ordering flags to be flown at half-staff in its camps and installations.
The soldiers killed in the encounter were Deligero; Staff Sgt. Jason P. Gazzingan; Corporals John T. Manodom, Mark Dixter U. Montenegro, Rasul B. Ao-As, Jomar A. Ninalga, and Ernesto L. Bautista Jr.; Privates First Class Benson A. Bongguic, Jomel N. Pagulayan, and Premark P. Vallecer; and Private Jiydon T. Usman, the youngest among the troop.
Meanwhile, those wounded were Staff Sgt. Alexander B. Bolesa; Sgt. Oliver Y. Salvador; Corporals Cpl Erick A. Curioso, Jesus P. Genora, Apollo D. Papa, Johnday B. Sabaway, and Narciso W. Salidad Jr.; Privates First Class Robert M. Arias, Odit P. Flores, Jaypee L. Maddawing, and Solomon T. Ngayak; and Privates RJ G. Estiban and Jesrael U. Sapao.