ZAMBOANGA CITY - The military is insisting that no less than 18 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group were killed in the latest clashes in the island-province of Basilan.
Col. Tiny Perez, commanding officer of the 18th Infantry Battalion, said the military was prepared in conducting the operation, which resulted in the alleged Abu Sayyaf members suffering a large casualty count.
Perez's statement, however, runs counter to information received by the local government unit of Tipo-Tipo.
Tipo-Tipo Mayor Tong Istarul said based on information reaching his office, there were initially 2 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group who were killed and another one was wounded. The third one later died.
Perez also explained why 2 government troopers were killed and 28 other were soldiers wounded in the clashes.
He said the Abu Sayyaf had the advantage of being on a defensive stance. "Mahirap kasi kapag ikaw ang nasa offensive, mahirap talagang makuha ang posisyon nila."
Istarul said the people of Tipo-Tipo are fed up with fighting in their community.
"It would seem that a bloody firefight like this happens every other two years," Istarul said. "Since 1973, marami na ang namatay diyan."
He asked the military to re-establish a detachment in Sitio Kurellem, the site of the latest encounter.
He said a few years ago, the group of Abu Sayyaf commander Puruji Indama left the area after the military established a detachment in the said place.
However, the detachment was pulled out, which resulted in Puruji's group returning to Kurellem.
Perez said two battalions were recently pulled out from Basilan. As a result, the military had to spread out its forces thinly across the province.
Perez and Istarul both confirmed that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) helped the government troops in the operation against the lawless group.
They said only some members of the MILF who had relatives with the ASG participated in the latest clashes.
Four members of the MILF were reportedly killed in the incident.
The clashes forced over 300 families to flee their homes. They are now temporarily staying with relatives in Tipo-Tipo.
The evacuees have been given relief goods by officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, as well as the national government.
Meanwhile, the local government urged the Moro National Liberation Front and the MILF to help guard the private contractors involved in the concreting of the Basilan Circumferential Road.
Istarul said Abu Sayyaf members have been trying to extort money from the contractors.
"Since these roads will be built leading to the communities of the MNLF and the MILF, they should also help in protecting the contractors and the heavy equipment," he said.