Bohol clashes leave 9 dead
Christell Fatima M. Tudtud, Jean Marvette A. Demecillo, Judy Flores Partlow (The Freeman) - April 12, 2017 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - At least four government troops and five alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) were killed in an encounter in Barangay Napo, Inabanga town in Bohol early morning yesterday. Three of the casualties from the government troops include a lieutenant and two soldiers of the 47th Infantry Battalion, and a member of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) of the Philippine National Police, said Lt. Colonel Dodie Belloga, commander of the 47th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Bohol.

Belloga said government troops recovered five bodies of suspected rebels and confiscated four high-powered firearms, including three M-16 armalite rifles and one M-4 rifle from Sitio Ibaya where the encounter happened.

As of 6 p.m. yesterday, efforts were underway to retrieve the bodies of two soldiers who were killed in action.

The bodies of the third soldier and the PNP officer who were killed during the first volley of gunfire could not be moved as these were reportedly near the house where the suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels were holed in.

Belloga denied reports a military chopper was shot down by the rebels. He said the choppers were used for troop insertion.

He said augmentation forced arrived and have contained/cordoned the area where the rebels are. A military tank has been deployed to the encounter site while air support was on standby.

The group in Bohol is reportedly led by Muamar Askali alias Abu Rami.

Operation

Belloga said the joint AFP and PNP team carried out the operation after receiving reports of about 10 unidentified armed men in Bohol.

The government troops hit the ground at the break of dawn and, while on patrol, at nearly 7 a.m., clashed with the rebels.

Hot pursuit operations ensued as the police and military persisted in closing in on the rebels, Belloga said.

Hours later, at around 1:45 p.m., an air strike by the government’s F260 planes was launched with the Air Force dropping six bombs. The clash ran for at least 12 hours.

Belloga said authorities are establishing whether the presence of the armed men is connected to intelligence reports they received over the weekend.

The reports said the Abu Sayyaf, led by a certain Abu Rami, had departed Mindanao to carry out kidnap activities in the Visayas. No specific targets were indicated but the military and police said possible targets are Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, Apo Island, and Siquijor, due to their proximity to one another.

Just days earlier, Australia and the US warned their citizens about possible "terrorist" kidnappings in Bohol or in Cebu.

"We're quite worried... we are afraid of hostage situations," said Khent Guimalan who works at the front desk of the upscale Bohol Beach Club.

In a press conference in Cebu yesterday afternoon, Colonel Medel Aguilar, assistant chief of the unified staff for Civil Military Operations of the Central Command, said troops on the ground have been reinforced.

"The Navy is securing the sea, kami (Army) sa ground, and Air Force are flying up there  in the skies for additional security," Aguilar said.

"We want to contain the problem in one area," he added.

Aside from AFP, personnel from the Bohol Provincial Police Office and Regional Public Safety Batallion-7 have been deployed in the area of the encounter.

Aguilar said the group may have chosen Bohol as it can be accessed in various entry points.

Inabanga itself is located along the coast the western part of Bohol that faces Cebu island.

"The sea is very wide, Bohol is an island. Anyone can enter north, south east and west," he said.

Authorities recovered three pump boats during the operation.

Evacuation

No civilians were hurt or harmed in the encounter, Aguilar said during a press conference in Cebu yesterday afternoon.

However, Marina Melloria, 51, said in an interview with The FREEMAN that relatives of her husband, Noli and Peny Melloria, as well as the couple’s three children, are allegedly held hostage by the group.

“Isalig nalang sa Ginoo ang tanan,” she said.

At least 1,800 civilians evacuated to safer ground to avoid them being caught in the crossfire, used as hostage, or human shield.

Inabanga Mayor Roygie Jumamoy also said hundreds of families from Barangay Napo and areas near the encounter site were moved.

Napo residents crossed a river about 25 meters wide on board a single boat to take shelter at a school in Barangay Kawayan on the other side. In nearby Banahaw, some 45 families are taking shelter at a chapel and a high school.

Neighboring towns, too, immediately established checkpoints to ensure the safety of their residents.

Proactive

The AFP and PNP commended the local governments of Bohol for making "a brave stand to defend themselves against the threat of terrorism" by alerting authorities of the presence of armed men.

They said 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."

In Cebu City, Mayor Tomas Osmeña said he will give P100,000 to anyone who can provide information on suspicious individuals here.

“If so happen the neighbors you reported turn out to be kidnappers, that’s P100,000…any information leading to disbanding or prevention of kidnapping,” he said.

Osmeña said the money for the reward will be charged against his intelligence funds this year.

He said anyone who has information can contact Councilor David Tumulak or the police officials for verification.

“So, we want everyone to be suspicious of their neighbors who are renters. The profile of a place being use as a safe house is that not being used, its only use one day plenty of people, the lights are on, the rest of the week wala. So, if you notice anything like this, please report it to the police as soon as possible,” the mayor said. – With Bonifacio Millanes III and the Agence France Presse/JMO (FREEMAN)

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