Of Encounters and Surrenders: Is the Sayyaf Weakening—or Simply Waiting?

April was far from a peaceful month for Patikul town, in Sulu, with elements of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) engaged with Philippine Government troops in weekly armed encounters.

Based on records by the Patikul Municipal Police Station, the ASG has been manifesting debilitation, as the Philippine Army’’s 11th Infantry Division moves in the province with the primary mission of totally crushing them.

As the army keeps its guard while trying to scour and get familiarized with the terrain in Sulu’s towns, the ASG movement has been of survival and self-defense.

On April 2, Patikul cops were escorting a group of teachers from Jolo to the village of Taung when they were ambushed at 8:30 early morning by more or less 10 ASG fighters in Kanague village. 2 policemen were wounded: MSGT (SPO1 Al Hidzfar Iraji (who was in critical condition), and Patrolman (PO1 Jordan Changlapon).

Personnel from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) rushed the 2 police to the Integrated Provincial Hospital of Sulu (IPHS) for medical treatment.

The police and the 32nd Infantry Battalion have launched pursuit operations against ASG following this incident, as the ASG fled into different directions.

Three days after, on April 5, operating troops of 5th Scout Ranger Battalion (SRB) under Col. Herbert Dilag while on combat operations encountered more or less 50 ASG within the vicinity of Sitio Atol in Barangay Latih, also in Patikul. It was as early as 6 in the morning when the exchange of fires began. While the casualties among the ASG were undetermined, thirteen (13) soldiers were wounded and three (3) were killed in action. The scout rangers fired 4 rounds of 81mm at Latih and another 5 rounds of 81mm at neighboring Danag village. Troops of 21IB simultaneously conducted blocking in Upper Latih and at Danag, while those from 41IB from Buhanginan moved to Barangay Bungcaong, Patikul to conduct pursuit operations.

On April 11, LtC. Ronaldo Mateo along with the operating troops (7 officers and 115 enlisted personnel) of 32IB have encountered more or less 120 ASG at the vicinity of Sitio Bud Taming in Barangay Panglayahan, also in Patikul. They were led by Radullan Sahirun, Hatab Hajan Sawadjaan and Almujer Yadah. Forces of 32IB and H6 Special Forces Battalion (SFBn) immediately provided an 81mm indirect fire support towards the location of engaging units, while the Alfa Company 8 Field Artillery Battalion provided indirect fire support until enemy withdrawal route during the 40-minute firefight. The clash ended with 2 wounded soldiers, and 1 body count from the Sayyaf.

At mid-day two days thereafter, intelligence operatives of 5SFBn led by SSgt. Nixon Abubakar with three (3) other enlisted personnel were traversing Liang – Buhanginan MSR on board 3 motorcycles when they were ambushed by more or less 7 ASG armed with pistols at the vicinity of Tanum village in Patikul.
While adjacent units were alerted, the Alert Teams of the 102Bde Tactical Command Post and the 6SFBn immediately proceeded to the ambush site utilizing 4 KM450 together with two (2) Wheeled Armor Vehicles for reinforcement.

Field ambulance together with one KM450 proceeded to ambush site for medical evacuation of casualties, who were brought to Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital for proper disposition. While 3 soldiers (identified to media as SSg Abubakar, Sgt Logan, Pfc Arabani ) were wounded, a civilian was killed in the crossfire.

However, it has not been just about armed conflicts. The surrender of 8 ASG elements as March ended was a well-received development. Joint Task Force Sulu BGen Divino Rey Pabayo, Jr. said the March 30 surrenderer was identified as Misali Abdulwahid, 33 years old (a follower of the late sub-leader Idang Susukan) who turned over a n M-16 rifle armalite rifle to Col. Antonio Nafarete, 110st Infantry Brigade Commander. Divino added that the surrender on March 31 afternoon by the 7 others, identified as araham Abdul, Delon Abdul, Jenyor Daihan Madjid, Wilson Tating Asid, Jasim, Uppih Umair, Nurhajir Amirol Patta, and Adzhar Hassan Sabdani (all former followers of ASG sub-leader Alhabsi Misaya, Asibih Pisih and Apoh Mike) led to the turn over of 5 garand rifles, 1 M-16 Armalite rifle and a .45 –caliber pistol.

Subsequently, on April 10 in the afternoon, 2 ASG members surrendered . They were presented to Brig. Gen Ariel Felicidario III, 110st Infantry Brigade PA HQ by the 21IB in Barangay Danag, Patikul. The ASG surrenderers were identified as Nidzmar Annuddin, 23, follower of ASG leader Radullan Sahiron alias Ka Putol, and Limo Ammad, 45, member of the group of slain sub-leader Alhabsi Misaya. They turned over M-16 armalite and garand rifles to the troops of 2nd SF Bn PA. They underwent medical check-up at KHTB Station hospital and were placed under custodial debriefing as facilitated by the troops.

In another case, an ASG member, Aldie Wadjid (who was under ASG leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan), was aprehended at 7 in the morning of April 17 by operating troops of 32IB while conducting field monitoring operations within the vicinity of Sitio Kanbading in Taung village, also in Patikul.

As a result, troops of 32IB seized from said ASG member 1 cal .45 pistol with Serial No. 706156 which had 1 magazine and 4 ammos, and 2 rolls of electric wires with length of approximately 30 meters.

While the 32IB conducted initial interrogation, said ASG member was turned over to Patikul MPS after proper coordination for custodial investigation and filing of appropriate charges. They were thereafter brought to KHTB Hospital for medical check-up, and subsequently underwent a custodial debriefing.

The ASG is still holding kidnap victims closest to 10 persons, including foreigners, and the presence of the 11ID augments military strength of JTF Sulu. The defense strategy of the Philippine armed forces has been observed by Suluanos as forceful, however, with all the violent atrocities the ASG has done in the past 18 years, there is more wrath than misgivings, or hesitation of any sort. The lull from the ASG is welcomed by most citizens, but the apprehension cannot be helped. Their speculated supporters from the local community have won in the May 13 elections—Gov.-elect Abdulsakur Tan, Vice-Gov.-elect Abdulsakur Tan, Jr., District 1 Congressman-elect Samier Tan, Kusug Party List Congresswoman Shernee Tan, and Maimbung Mayor-elect Shihlah Tan-Hayudini.

Meanwhile, the hands of the AFP are full: security during elections, terrorism, entry of Islamic State as cohorts, and community services as a defense strategy to win more people’s hearts. And the question raised has been: is the ASG just waiting to pounce again?

In the past weeks, with the President visiting Sulu in a number of times more than any other president did, the ASG, at least in Patikul town where the Provincial Capitol stands, seems to be showing its weakening side—in the hinterlands where its leadership seeks refuge. (Maria Frencie Carreon)

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