MANILA – The government security forces said all but a few of the Abu Sayyaf members who went to Bohol from their Mindanao sanctuary have been eliminated, hours after three more ASG suspects were killed in clashes in Clarin, Bohol late Saturday, soon after a sub-leader was himself intercepted and shot dead.
“It could just be a matter of time before we can say that the threat is totally eliminated. The remaining lawless armed elements who are strangers in the area have nowhere to go,” said a second statement by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Visayas Command (Centcom) just before midnight Saturday.
Hours “after the death of Joselito Melloria, a.k.a. Abu Alih, three more armed lawless elements were killed in the succeeding skirmishes in Sitio Lagsing, Barangay Bacani, Clarin, Bohol. Two high-powered firearms were also recovered by the government forces from the armed group,” Centcom reported.
While activities related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings were under way elsewhere in Bohol, heightened security operations on that island province resulted in government forces intercepting and killing Melloria, believed to be operating in a sub-leader capacity in the Abu Sayyaf.
Melloria, who is said to use the nom-de-guerre Abu Alih, is suspected of serving as the local contact stringing for the ASG, and was apparently on his way to the town of Inabanga, scene of a vicious clash between the Abu Sayyaf and joint AFP-Police security forces earlier in the week.
Although it acknowledged ASG stragglers were still in the area, Centcom assured the public late Saturday that “our combined troops will remain cautious in their mission to neutralize what remains of the armed lawless group. The safety of our peace-loving people is of paramount consideration as we deliver the final blow to the stragglers.”
Authorities are in the process of identifying the bodies, and Centcom said that “despite the reported hostile plan of these lawless armed men, they will still be afforded with decent burial by the people they planned to harm before.”
Centcom declared, ”terrorism has no place in the Visayas Region. Our people will stand up against it. The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police will always be there to protect them.”
The revelations that ASG members had sailed from Tawi-tawi to Bohol had challenged government security forces, amid the hosting by Bohol of key meetings of the ASEAN, in the run-up to the April 26-29 Summit in Manila, where some heads of state of the regional bloc are expected to attend.
Last week, government forces clashed with the extremists in Inabanga town soon after confirming intelligence that the ASG had indeed arrived in Bohol, which with Cebu is a tourism hotspot. Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo M. Año said earlier the ASG was apparently casting a wider net as sources of funding were tightening and they needed to mount more kidnap for ransom missions outside of their usual bases in Mindanao.