Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa on Tuesday revealed the presence of suspected Abu Sayyaf group members in Inabanga, Bohol, hundreds of kilometers away from the bandits' lair in Basilan province.
Dela Rosa said the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have launched a joint operation against the Abu Sayyaf members.
He said that an ongoing gunbattle between the troops and the bandits was happening as of this posting. One soldier has been killed and a policeman has been wounded, he added.
"As of now may isang Army na patay at isang pulis at isang Army na wounded. Joint operation ng PNP at Philippine Army versus suspected Abu Sayyaf," he said.
But in a separate press briefing, Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs chief, said three from the government side have been killed and two were wounded while five were killed on the enemy side.
He said this is based on the initial information from their troops on the ground.
"As of this time, ang report natin lima sa mga kalaban ang namatay at nakuha natin ang apat na high powered firearms, tatlo rito ay M16 rifles at isa ay M14 at meron pa silang na-recover na isang improvised explosive device na nakalagay sa isang sako," he said.
"Nalulungkot tayong ibalita na sa government side ay tatlo ang nagbuwis ng buhay at dalawa ang sugatan," Arevalo added.
In a joint statement Tuesday afternoon, however, the military and police confirmed a fourth fatality from the government side — a policeman.
“Four of our brave troops, however, made the supreme sacrifice of giving their lives during the course of this operation. Their heroism will forever be engraved in the hearts of our people,” they said.
Dela Rosa said the bandits are holed up in three houses in the area.
"So far hindi pa cleared ang area, naipit ang mga kalaban sa concrete na bahay. Nag-occupy sila ng tatlong bahay," he said.
Asked on the motive of suspected Abu Sayyaf members, Arevalo said they are still investigating.
“Sa ngayon inaalam pa natin kung ano ang tunay na motibo at dahilan kung bakit sila nandito sa lugar na ito. Ayon sa nakuha na mga intelligence information, kagabi lang sila dumating sa lugar na ito at kaayon sa sinasabi natin, bagaman kagabi lang sila dumating, na-monitor kaagad natin sila at nakagawa tayo ng karampatang aksyon,” he said.
He said at least 10 suspected Abu Sayyaf members arrived Monday night.
An intelligence report obtained by GMA News said that the Abu Sayyaf members, on board three speedboats, was spotted along a river in Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo in Inabanga at around 10 a.m. on Monday.
Another report said that a bandit under the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Abu Rami initially spotted in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte arrived in Inabanga town around 5 p.m. Monday.
The report said the Abu Sayyaf bandits were planning to carry out a kidnapping in the province.
Citing reports form the group, AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said around 7 a.m. Tuesday, soldiers, while acting on received intelligence information, encountered a group of "heavily armed lawless elements" at Sitio Ilaya in Brgy Napo, Inabanga.??
He said the security operation was launched in relation to the monitored presence of 10 armed men with three pumpboats along the riverside of the sitio.
The information came from residents and other citizens who were watching over their respective communities, Año said in a statement while visiting troops of 1001st Infantry Brigade of the 10th Infantry Division at Maco, Compostela Valley.
He said security forces reported that the armed group was well armed with heavy caliber weapons but was now cornered in an isolated section of the sitio.??
"Additional forces from the Army, Air Force and the Navy are now onsite to assist engaged AFP personnel and law enforcers. Firefight is still ongoing as of this time," he said.
On Monday, Dela Rosa confirmed the information received by the United States Embassy about threats of terrorism and kidnapping in Central Visayas, where Bohol is located.
The US Embassy has issued a travel warning to Americans to avoid Central Visayas due to the threats.
The PNP chief had assured the public that police are ready to thwart the planned kidnappings.
The Abu Sayyaf group's trip to Bohol came amid the military's intensified offensive in the bandit group's known lairs in Basilan, Sulu and Lanao provinces. —ALG/KBK/MDM, GMA News