MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said he will order a revamp of the military’s composition in Jolo, Sulu, following the deaths of several soldiers in recent clashes there.
“In a few days I’m transferring one division sa Jolo. Nagsawa na ako. A fortnight ago, nag-usap kami ni Del (Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana) and I communicated to them my disappointment kung bakit gano’n, sige na lang tayo mamatayan,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City.
“It’s an attrition thing at tatapusin na natin iyan.”
(In a few days I’m transferring one division in Jolo. I’ve grown tired of it. A fortnight ago, Del and I talked and I communicated my disappointment over why these deaths happened. It’s an attrition and we will put an end to this.)
Duterte did not identify the clashes he was referring to, but a skirmish between the military and terrorist group Abu Sayyaf saw 5 government soldiers killed and 23 others injured.
The soldiers were searching for hostages taken by the Abu Sayyaf group when the gunmen attacked them on the southern Philippine island of Jolo on Friday, regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana told reporters.
"The effort is part of our mission to rescue the remaining hostages," Besana said.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose alliance of several hundred armed militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
The November 16 clash was one of the deadliest since an Abu Sayyaf faction joined other foreign and Filipino militants in seizing the southern Philippine city of Marawi last year, leading to a five-month battle that claimed more than 1,100 lives.
The Abu Sayyaf is now believed to hold "less than 10" hostages, Besana said.
The group is based in the southern islands but its members began in 2016 to kidnap sailors in the waters between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The militants have also raided and taken hostages from resorts in the southern Philippines and neighboring Malaysia.
Most of the hostages have been ransomed off for huge amounts of money and several were beheaded, including two Canadian tourists in 2016. A Dutch birdwatcher abducted on a nearby island in 2012 is believed to be among those still being held captive.
The Dutchman's Swiss colleague escaped in 2014 after grabbing a kidnapper's machete and killing him.
The soldiers who survived Friday's ambush did not see any hostages during the 90-minute clash near the town of Patikul, Besana said. - with AFP