ZAMBOANGA, JULY 30, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Julie Alipala - —“They stuck together and refused to leave each other.”

That and not operational lapses, according to the military, was the reason why many soldiers were killed or wounded in a clash with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan province on Thursday.

Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said 10 Scout Rangers were killed and 17 others were wounded in daylong clashes with the bandits in Sumisip town in Basilan.

It was the largest military loss since 19 soldiers were killed in clashes with Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas in Al-Barka, Basilan, in October last year.

In August 2009, 23 soldiers died in the military’s worst loss in a single engagement with Abu Sayyaf bandits, also in Basilan. The Abu Sayyaf lost 21 men in that clash.

Cabangbang said nine bandits were killed and more than a dozen others were injured in the clashes on Thursday.

Col. Ramon Yogyog, Task Force Basilan commander, said villagers provided the information about the Abu Sayyaf casualties.

“We got all the information from village and cooperative workers,” Yogyog said.

Cabangbang said embattled soldiers running after the Abu Sayyaf gunmen who were harassing rubber plantation workers in two villages in Sumisip town may have wanted to fall back after realizing they were surrounded by so many enemies.

“There will come a point that you should withdraw but you’ll realize that it’s not anymore feasible because of all the maneuvering that is happening,” he said.

Fought together

For most of the soldiers involved in Oplan Water Dragon 2 in Tumahubong and Cabengbeng villages, Cabangbang said, withdrawing meant about half of their companions would be left behind.

“So they stuck together, engaged the enemy until the firing ceased,” Cabangbang said.

The Army said the slain soldiers were Privates First Class Segundiano Tamayo Jr., Rey Evangelista, Arnold Coresis, Cleto Algayan, Kennith John Maribao, Jose Marvin Talamante, Mark Ocampo, Arwin Martinez and Erwin Alerta and Cpl. Jerry Areglado.

The clashes in Tumahubong and Cabengbeng came another Abu Sayyaf group harassed rubber plantation workers two weeks ago. The bandits killed six rubber tappers in that attack.

Yogyog said on Wednesday morning that armed men fired at a detachment inside the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Integrated Development Cooperative Inc. (Tarbidci) in Tumahubong village.

“During the first hour of engagement (which started at 7:30 a.m.), we had two wounded Rangers,” Yogyog said by phone.

Bandit reinforcement

He said the fighting continued when at least 40 armed men came as reinforcement for the bandit group initially numbering around 20.

“We matched their strength and augmented our troops and it turned into a running gun battle,” Yogyog said.

Cabangbang said government troops were pursuing the Abu Sayyaf bandits in the hinterlands of Sumisip.

“Our concentration now is to secure the area so that the workers can go about their daily activities,” Cabangbang said.

Reinforcement troops and mobile forces have been deployed to help scour the forested areas of Sumisip where the bandits have retreated, he said.

Former workers of the Tarbidci, including former cooperative official Aleman Bottong, joined the Abu Sayyaf, Yogyog said.

“Bottong is a former assistant manager of Tarbidci,” Cabangbang said.

Booming business

“The rubber business is booming in this province and it’s considered white gold so armed men, especially the Abu Sayyaf Group and other lawless elements, are taking advantage not just by sending extortion letters but by stealing the rubber saps,” Yogyog said.

Yogyog said the series of attacks on Tarbidci workers were not isolated.

Cooperatives or family-owned rubber plantations in the towns of Maluso, Sumisip, Ungkaya Pukan and Tipo-Tipo reported continuing harassment by armed groups, he said.

Rubber tappers in the village of Calang Canas in Maluso town and in Tumahubong were the latest victims of harassment, according to Tarbidci manager Taha Katoh.

“Armed men are making it difficult for our workers to go to the field—either our workers are ambushed or killed because we refused to give in to their extortion demands,” he said.

Bandit strategy

Yogyog said the armed groups would sow fear in a certain area while the real bandits tapped rubber sap.

Arnold Yap of the Department of Trade and Industry in Basilan said a kilogram of rubber sap went for P110.

There are some 21,700 hectares of land planted to rubber in the island province of Basilan.

Cabangbang said the number of slain Abu Sayyaf bandits remained nine as of yesterday.

He identified eight of the slain bandits as Ustadz Hassan Asnawi, Jumaidi Asnawi (son of Hassan), Nurham Asnawi, Juhair Aliman, Kaobut Mastul, Hudjata Marain, Meloy Patpi and a certain Balong. The ninth dead bandit remained unidentified, he said.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces Chief General Jessie Dellosa yesterday visited the wounded soldiers at the military hospital here.

Both officials declined to issue statements.

Cabangbang said Gazmin was also to visit ground troops in Basilan.

“He always makes a point to visit there and the soldiers, too, especially the Special Operations Command,” he said.

Yogyog said six of the 17 wounded soldiers remained in critical condition yesterday.

Aid for families

The bodies of the slain Rangers will soon be sent to their families, Cabangbang said.

Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, Army chief, yesterday ordered the release of P7.2 million in cash assistance to the families of the slain Rangers.

Maj. Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesperson, said each family would receive at least P630,000 depending on the slain soldier’s rank and length of service. With a report from Marlon Ramos


140 Filipinos Trapped In Syria Coming Home By ROY C. MABASA July 30, 2012, 7:03pm

[PHOTO - OFWs FROM SYRIA: The Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday said they were expecting about 100 more Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to be repatriated from strife-torn Syria in the next two weeks.]

MANILA, Philippines --- Some 140 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) trapped in troubled Syria are expected to return home in the next four days after the Philippine government was able to successfully negotiate with top Syrian officials their immediate repatriation.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), this is the largest batch of OFWs coming home from Syria since the unrest started in March, 2011. This will also bring the total number of repatriates to 1,993.

The DFA revealed that the Syrian government agreed to waive the exit visa fees, penalties, and requirements for the 140 OFWs, saving the Philippines an estimated $100,000.

In addition, the Syrian government assured Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael E. Seguis that it will assist in the repatriation of 1,404 more OFWs who have signified their intention to come home.

It likewise agreed to facilitate the repatriation of other Filipinos who will seek the assistance of the Philippine embassy in Damascus in the coming days.

The repatriates will be assisted by Embassy personnel during their repatriation and will be escorted by members of the Philippine Government’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) from the Embassy to the Damascus International Airport.

Nineteen Filipino repatriates arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 Sunday afternoon. Two more Filipino repatriates arrived Sunday night.

Meanwhile, 82 OFWs will arrive Monday afternoon, 27 on Tuesday, and 10 on Wednesday.

As the violence in Syria escalates, the DFA renewed its call on the family members of Filipinos in Syria to provide the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA) with up-to-date information regarding their loved ones’ whereabouts and contact details in Syria.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario had earlier sent Undersecretary Seguis to Syria to negotiate for the easing of exit visa requirements for OFWs caught in the violence.

A six-man Government Rapid Response Team (RRT) departed for Syria last week to augment the operations of the Philippine embassy in Damascus.

The RRT is composed of officials and personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

The Embassy, led by Charge d’Affaires, a.i. Olivia Palala, further expanded its information campaign through text messages, information flyers, and media advertisements to complement its existing links with Filipino community leaders and groups.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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