MANILA - Abu Sayyaf terrorists held a position of advantage while on high ground during an encounter with state troops in Patikul, Sulu on Friday, leaving 11 soldiers dead and several others wounded, military officials said Saturday.
Members of the 21st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army came under fire on Friday after they were caught in a cattle ranch while pursuing the terrorist group.
"'Yong lahat ng units namin nag-pursuit operations and then nagkataon na itong isang unit na humahabol napunta sa wala silang cover, sa bakahan lang," said Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, commander of the 11th Infantry Division.
(All were pursuing [Abu Sayyaf] and it so happened that one unit was driven into a cattle ranch and without cover.)
"Yong kalaban natiyempohan sila... Nasa high ground 'yong kalaban and 'yong nag-a-asault na tropa paakyat sila kaya lang wala silang cover," Vinluan added.
(The enemies chanced on our soldiers... The enemies were located on higher ground and our soldiers were trying to advance their position, but without cover.)
The troops, who were from the 21st Infantry Battalion, were at the time conducting combat operations, said Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command Spokesperson Maj. Arvin John Encinas.
"Nagkataon lamang na itong grupo ng Abu Sayyaf ay nasa itaas na bahagi kung kaya't nasa advantage na position sila (Abu Sayyaf)," he said.
(It so happened that the Abu Sayyaf members were on an elevated position so they had the advantage.)
The clash, an offshoot of previous gun battles between state troops and bandits on Thursday, raged for an hour.
The Abu Sayyaf armed fighters managed to flee before military reinforcement arrived, Vinluan said
The military is still determining casualties among the Abu Sayyaf, led by Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan,believed to be the acting "emir" or leader of the so-called Islamic State in the Philippines.
Vinluan said Sawadjaan's group was responsible for the abduction of Dr. Daniel Moreno in Jolo, Sulu on February 4. The doctor was rescued by government forces on March 24.
In January, 5 Indonesian fishermen were also abducted by the bandits off Malaysian waters.
The terrorist group based in southern Philippines has engaged in bombings and kidnap-for-ransom operations, mostly of Western tourists and missionaries since the early 1990s.
On Saturday, the military awarded wounded personnel medals to the 12 soldiers who survived the gunfight.
They were admitted at a military hospital in Sulu, and 2 were later transferred to a hospital in Zamboanga City due to serious injuries.
The remains of fallen soldiers were also brought to Zamboanga City where they will be honored with a repatriation ceremony.
Many of those who died were from Luzon, Vinluan said.
"After na maiayos sila ay ihahatid na sila ng ating military aircraft papunta sa kaniya-kaniyang probinsya. Karamihan taga-Luzon, may isang taga-Samar, then mayroon din sa bandang Cotabato," he said.
(Their remains will be repatriated to their respective provinces. Most of them were from Luzon, one was from Samar and other from part of Cotabato.)
Malacañang earlier condemned the Abu Sayyaf attack, which happened while government was preoccupied with response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It vowed to crush the state's enemies.
-- Report from RJ Rosalado, ABS-CBN News