MANILA (UPDATE) - Malacañang on Saturday vowed to crush the state's enemies as it condemned the Abu Sayyaf Group's attack that left 11 soldiers dead and 14 wounded in Sulu on Friday.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the latest incident in Patikul, Sulu, where members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) believed to be under ASG leader Radullan Sahiron and Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan attacked government troops resulting in a firefight," Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
He said it was the second encounter between the bandit group and state troops in as many days, with three soldiers wounded in the first encounter on April 16.
Roque cited how the terror group carried out attacks even while the nation grappled with the spread of the contagious coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which has infected 5,878 in the country, among whom 387 died and 487 recovered, as of Friday.
The unprecedented pandemic has prompted lockdowns in Luzon and other parts of the country, keeping authorities busy with manning checkpoints and enforcing quarantine rules.
"The enemies of the State choose no date and occasion. They strike even during this time of great pandemic," said Roque.
"But let this serve as a warning to all: Our authorities remain ready and prepared to crush the enemies of the government and quell any armed attack amid the existing state of calamity and public health emergency," he said.
Malacañang also sent condolences to families of the lost soldiers.
"The Office of the President expresses its sincerest condolences to the bereaved families left behind by our brave soldiers who fought hard and paid the ultimate sacrifice to secure our community. We honor and pray for the fallen," he said.
The encounter between around 40 Abu Sayyaf fighters and state troops happened Friday afternoon in Patikul town and lasted about an hour.
A military official said Saturday the soldiers were caught in a position of disadvantage when the encounter happened in Danag, Patikul.
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.)
Bodies of the slain soldiers were transported Friday night to a funeral home in Zamboanga City, Encinas said.
He said the military is taking into consideration protocols related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 14 wounded troops were brought to a military hospital in Sulu. Two of them were later airlifted to Zamboanga City.
- with a report from Liezel Lacastesantos, ABS-CBN News