At least five suspected members of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayaff terrorist group have been killed after hours of gun battle that also left three soldiers and a policeman dead at the village of Barangay Napo in Inabanga town yesterday.
The armed men allegedly coming from a rebel stronghold in Sulu failed to pursue any possible terror attack when the 47th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army stationed in Bohol and the police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team stormed them with combat artillery early Tuesday in the sub-village of Ilaya in barangay Napo, Inabanga.
The Philippine Air Force continued airstrike even past midnight, while the soldiers on the ground continued operation with the aid of night vision googles.
In a joint statement of the Cebu-based Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Central Command and the Police Regional Office (PRO)-7, AFP CentCom commander, LGen. Oscar Lactao, and PRO-7 regional director, PCSupt. Noli Taliño confirmed that five of the 10 armed men were killed during the encounter and three M16 and an M4 were recovered as of 1 p.m. yesterday.
AFP CentCom and PRO-7 also confirmed one police officer and three AFP soldiers were killed.
Fatalities from government troops were identified as 2nd Lt. Estilito Saldua Jr., Cpl. Miljune Cajaban, Sgt. John Dexter Duero, and PO2 Rey Anthony Nazareno.
Nazareno, who hails from Calape, just completed his SWAT training in March.
“On behalf of the combined forces of the AFP and the PNP in the Visayas Region, we want to congratulate our people of Bohol under the able leadership of Gov. Edgar Chatto, and all the local chief executives down to the municipal and barangay levels, who made a brave stand to defend themselves against the threat of terrorism. The government security forces simply reinforced the vigilance of the Boholanos who organized themselves into a strong force to keep the province safe from any threat group,” Lactao and Taliño expressed in the joint statement.
Gov. Chatto establishged a command center at the Inabanga town hall together with Mayor Roygie Jumamoy, Rep. Aris Aumentado and Provincial Administrator Ae Damalerio while PNP Provl Director Felipe Natividad arrived early Tuesday morning at the area.
They also confirmed that the movement of the suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) had been monitored when they entered Visayas by boat.
AFP public affairs chief, Col. Edgar Arevalo, also explained in an interview with national media that the procedure is to validate first, any intelligence information regarding the movement of armed rebels before taking action.
This is in response to a query why the armed men coming from Mindanao were not intercepted prior to landing in Inabanga.
The AFP and the PNP still considered it a “tactical victory” because the armed men had been prevented from pursuing any terror attack in Bohol.
PRO-7 tagged Muamar Askali, also known as Abu Rami of the ASG, as the one behind the armed men’s mission in Bohol.
Lt.Col. Jose Dodjie Belloga Jr., commander of the 47th Infantry, said they launched the attack after validating reports that at least 10 armed men had entered the area onboard three pumpboats through the Inabanga River. (see separate story)
Inabanga River branches also to the adjacent towns, Danao and Buenavista.
During the encounter, government troops destroyed the three pumpboats that brought the armed men to Inabanga.
Checkpoints and other security measures have been undertaken to limit the movement of the remaining members of the armed group.
A C-130 of Philippine Army arrived in the afternoon at the Tagbilaran City Airport, bringing more soldiers to fight the remaining suspected ASG members and dropped at least six bombs.
The augmentation forces came from Cebu and Manila.
Jumamoy had also ordered forced evacuation of families from barangay Napo and nearby barangays to prevent civilian casualties at the height of the clash.
Residents of barangays Calente and Banahaw were also evacuated.
Other evacuation sites are barangays Cawayan, Dagohoy, and Dagnawan.
Over 600 families have been evacuated to at least 11 evacuation points- -20 individuals in the house of Edgar Selma in Lilo-an Norte, 50 individuals in the house of Datag Barangay Captain Fermin Divinagracia, 100 individuals in the barangay hall of Centro Baguhan, 20 individuals in the public market of Ma. Rosario, 29 families in Cambito-on Elementary School, 125 families (498 individuals) in Cawayan Elementary School, 34 families in the chapel of Banahaw, five families in Cora Senta of Lilo-an Sur, 163 families in Dagnawan Elementary School, 160 families in Dagnawan High School, and over 100 families in Sagbayan gym.
Chatto and Jumamoy also monitored and visited the evacuation sites to make sure they get enough supply of food and clothing and other basic needs.
Chatto also sent social welfare and development teams to bring the provisions to evacuated families, while “standby medical and rescue teams are on alert”.
TaRSIER 117, the provincial government’s quick response unit, is also on standby for any emergency situation, including rushing wounded soldiers and SWAT Team members to hospitals.
The governor explained that the residents of barangay Napo must have been on alert already against any suspicious individual even prior to the entry of the 10 armed men, because there had been prior advisories from the Capitol and the Bohol Police Provincial Office (BPPO) in the light of the upcoming hosting of Bohol of the ASEAN Summit and the observance of the Holy Week.
Chatto just reiterated yesterday the advisory to all barangays to stay on alert for any suspicious individuals who might pose threat to Bohol.
In an advisory addressed to all barangay captains, Chatto reiterated the “earlier directive to put on full alert all barangay officials, purok leaders, volunteer groups and residents in your areas to immediately report to law enforcement authorities unusual movement of unknown persons specially those with firearms”
Chatto gave them the TaRSIER 117 emergency response numbers, 09175101490, 09497955530, 09258300117, and the hotline, 117.
Moreover, the Countryside Development Program-Purok Power Movement (CDP-PPM) initiated by the provincial administration had already established the protocol in sub-villages to report to authorities, new individuals visiting their areas for at least 24 hours- -suspicious or not- -just for monitoring of visitors.
By the afternoon, Chatto already had the assurance from the government troops that the remaining armed men had been “contained in one barangay, not affecting the whole province and the whole country”.
Chatto advised the public to stay vigilant yet calm, and refrain from sharing unverified information posted on Facebook to avoid undue panic.
On the other hand, the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) was just about to call a meeting to discuss the US embassy’s travel advisory to avoid Cebu and Bohol when the report of the 10 armed men broke.
PNP Director Ronald Dela Rosa, for his part, told the national media that based on the reports from men on the ground, the armed men had occupied three houses already and that the combat response was just promptly launched to prevent them from spreading to adjacent areas.
The government troops had to drop bombs since the armed men had taken shield in a concrete structure. (see related story)
In Dauis, Mayor Miriam Sumaylo immediately alerted all barangay captains and the tanods, and the municipal police team to monitor all the coastal areas in response to reported sighting of a kumpit boat docking on an area along the stretch of the town’s shores.
The kumpit boats are trademark of handiwork from Sibutu, a town in the island province of Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao.
The residents in a coastal village were reportedly alarmed on the presence of such boat which design is different from those they regularly see plying the seawaters of Bohol.
However, police intelligence teams are still validating the information.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in Panglao have also been monitoring the seawaters around Panglao island since the alert status had been raised in relation to the upcoming ASEAN Summit hosting and the Holy Week.
Their monitoring helped secure the area even prior to the Inabanga encounter.