ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista visited the soldiers wounded in the recent clashes with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in a bid to boost their morale.
Bautista awarded Gold Cross Medal to Lt. Col. Fernando Reyeg, the commanding officer of the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, and enlisted personnel Cpl. Loui Orinia.
Twenty-three soldiers are still confined at the Camp Navarro General Hospital while five others are being treated in a private hospital.
Two soldiers and 18 Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed in the clashes which started dawn on Friday last week.
The fighting erupted when government troops engaged a group of about 60 Abu Sayyaf fighters in Sitio Pansul, Barangay Silangkum in Tipo-tipo, Basilan.
The military was pursuing the group of ASG Commander Puruji Indama after he allegedly threatened and demanded P5 million from the contractor of the Magkawa-Al barka road project.
In an ambush interview before flying to Basilan, Bautista said intensified military operations will continue against the ASG in Basilan and Sulu.
He said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was not the target of the operation.
However, some MILF members who have relatives from the ASG might have taken part in the firefight, he said.
MILF Vice Chair for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar on Monday confirmed that at least four MILF men died in the exchange of fire.