(2nd UPDATE) The Philippine military lost one officer and 14 enlisted personnel in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu, the Armed Forces said Tuesday.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the soldiers engaged the bandits starting Monday morning, and suffered the casualties toward the afternoon.
"We have had a short period of jubilation following some very successful skirmishes with the enemy, but unfortunately, just yesterday, we lost 15 of our members to a very closely fought engagement period [sic] that begun early in the morning and moved on throughout the day until late in the afternoon," he said.
By afternoon, he said, members of the 21st and 35th Infantry Battalions were engaging the bulk of Abu Sayyaf in Patikul, and may have compromised their position.
"Initially, we were made to believe that there was a small group, but when they entered in another area, the number kind of swelled. Apparently, that was where they were hiding to escape the pursuing troops," he said.
"Unfortunately, there was a small group of our members of the 35th IB who pursued a bigger group that was running away. And unfortunately, the mastery of the terrain was working to the advantage of the ASG who were in a higher ground," he added.
Padilla likened the encounter to an ambush, wherein no military personnel was closely shot by the enemy.
"No member of our troops were bastardized or disrespected and we were able to recover them in due time. Many of them still getting to the medical lines alive, but because of their injuries, they succumbed later on," he said.
He reported also that the most recent number of Abu Sayyaf fighters killed was 30, possibly including one sub-commander.
The following are the soldiers who died in the clash, according to the AFP:
- 2Lt. Ernan P. Gusto (33, Isabela)
- SSgt. Ruel A. Catubay (39, Zamboanga Sibugay)
- Sgt. Jay Erwin L. Almohallas (38, Lanao del Norte)
- CPL Omar M. Raddulan (41, Lanao del Norte)
- CPL Ronald M. Galoniga (33, Lanao del Norte)
- CPL Elid S. Ismael (49, Jolo, Sulu)
- CPL Salik H. Mandangan (31, Lanao del Norte)
- PFC Nestor C. Bacaling (26, Lanao del Norte)
- PFC Jison B. Falcasantos (28, Zamboanga City)
- PFC Gerald A. Yubal (29, Zamboanga Sibugay)
- PFC Dhendo A. Dujo (32, Zamboanga Sibugay)
- PFC Roselito A. Arnoco (29, Zamboanga del Sur)
- PFC Glend C. Resma (24, North Cotabato)
- PFC Rogelio D. Vincoy (28, Zamboanga del Norte)
- PVT Jonas A. Lumayan (23, Zamboanga del Sur)
An earlier statement from the Army said Abu Sayyaf leader Jamiri Jawong Jauhari was severely wounded in the encounter.
The Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnapping and beheading captives, has dogged successive Philippine governments, entrenching its network with vast sums of ransom money in what has become one of Asia's most lucrative kidnapping rackets.
Security experts say the members of the bandit group are motivated less by Islamist ideology and more by the tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings.
Two Canadians and a Filipino teenager were executed this year by the Abu Sayyaf. Last week, two Indonesians escaped captivity but there was speculation the Abu Sayyaf freed them after their families paid their ransoms.
Eight Indonesians, eight Filipinos, five Malaysians, a Dutch bird watcher, and a Norwegian resort manager are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf. It was not known if the hostages were in Patikul jungle when the assault began on Thursday.
Padilla vowed that the military will not cease its pursuit operations until they reach a "very decisive engagement with this group," and try to rescue the hostages.
"The primordial objective and concentration we are having is to closely ensure that the victims they hold will be safely rescued, but if we are not able to do that, it would be very unfortunate, but that’s what we are trying to see," he said. --With reports from Reuters