MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Navy on Monday maintained that the Sulu incident over the weekend that left seven Marines and nine Abu Sayyaf killed was a “meeting encounter” and not an ambush.
Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano said the government forces, part of the Force Recon Class 18 as stated on a report by the Western Mindanao Command, were on “route security” when the encounter occurred.
“They were actually doing a route security preparing for the deployment of other follow-on forces. And the incident happened actually within or near their main maneuvering base,” he told reporters at the Philippine Marine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio where the slain Marines were given full military honors.
A police version of the report said that the soldiers were “ambushed” in Tugas on Saturday morning.
“They were trying to do route security… It was a meeting encounter while they were doing route security,” he said.
The soldiers were tasked to rescue kidnap victim Casilda Villarasa, wife of Sergeant Faustino Villarasa.
“Before you have a main body moving out to any destination maneuver, you make sure that the area is cleared. Now this forms part of the doctrines that we do as far as the conduct of operations is concerned,” he said.
“It is part of the training and skills requirement that we are trying to develop for all sailors and Marines, that they should have the necessary skills in order to what they are supposed to be doing,” he added.
An investigating team was already sent to look into the “exact reasons” behind the incident and to gather what they could to correct and improve their “doctrine,” Alano said
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista said the statements of retired Colonel Ariel Querubin were “unfounded.”
“They are unfounded and I don’t think that is the real situation. Matagal nang retired si Col. Querubin,” he said.
Querubin said the slain Marines were part of the Recon (reconnaissance team) and were not tasked to engage with enemies, but rather gather intelligence information.
The AFP chief said they are not looking into reviewing test mission doctrines.
“There are no plans. That is part of the curriculum of the training of the Marines, of the force recon. That is part of the training,” he said.
Bautista, whose military father was killed by Muslim rebels in Sulu in the late 1970s, also expressed his sadness on the latest tragedy in the military.
“That’s why I am here because I know personally what it feels. So I am here to condole with the families. Not only as Chief of Staff but on a personal basis. As also having gone through that. And it’s a sad experience but I’m sure the families will live through and come out stronger,” he said.
Despite the incident, the AFP chief said that it will not dampen their spirits and the morale of the troops remained high.
“The morale of our people continues to be high. This is an incident which will not deter our people from performing their mandate of protecting the people and the state, the security and sovereignty of the state, and the national territory. This is what we have trained for as soldiers and this mandate we will continue to perform regardless the risk that we face in doing that. And that is all part of our training, conviction as members of the [AFP],” he said.
Pursuit operations for the perpetrators continue as of posting time.
“I have talked to the commanders in the ground with the Commander of Western Mindanao Command and the Brigade Commander in Sulu and the directive for them is to continue to pursue the perpetrators of this incident, and we have been constantly pursuing this group [that] has been suspected of kidnapping a lot of victims. Even without the directive, there is sustained operations to go after this group,” he said.