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Slain Marines get heroes’ welcome

HOME ARE THE HEROES President Aquino leads the hero’s welcome for the bodies of seven Marines who died on Thursday in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Patikul, Sulu. The Marines were given full military honors. "They were tasked to protect the state and the citizenry. They did what they promised to do," the President said. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

President Benigno Aquino III on Saturday led a heroes’ welcome for the seven Marines killed in a clash with the Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf in Sulu last week.

Mr. Aquino was with Vice President Jejomar Binay and military officials at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City when the military plane from Zamboanga City carrying the remains of the Marines landed at around 3 p.m.

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“They were tasked to protect the state and the citizenry. They did what they promised to do,” President Aquino told reporters in a brief interview after the ceremonies and a meeting with the Marines’ families.

Mr. Aquino said operations against the terrorist group would continue despite the observance of the Muslim month of Ramadan beginning Monday but added that the government would “remain sensitive” to the religious observance.

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“Catching them is a priority,” he said.

“There is an ongoing operation. We will be sensitive to the concerns of our Muslim brothers but at the same time there are police operations ongoing,” President Aquino said in an interview after the  rites for the fallen Marines.

In an earlier interview over government radio station dzRB on Saturday, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said Malacañang was aware of the traditional cessation of operations in line with Ramadan but indicated a need to balance the continuation of the operations and the religious observance.

Sympathy for families

“The President’s instructions were very clear that the operations wouldn’t stop,” Valte said.

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The President expressed his sympathies to the families of the soldiers that were present at the airbase to receive the remains.

“What we handled (on Friday) was the benefits for the people killed and wounded in action. That is ready now,” President Aquino said.

The seven Marines were 2Lt. Michael Baladad, Sgt. Desiderio Serdan Jr., Cpl. Ramsel Laynesa, Cpl. Claro Lapasaran III, Cpl. Freddie Castellano Jr., Private First Class Juanito Evasco Jr. and Private Nico Tinambunan.

“We are proud of him. We will do what we can so that what happened to him won’t be meaningless,” said Cherry Mae Matos, a batchmate of Tinambunan’s in the Marine Corps.

“Even if we want to take revenge we will still be professionals,” she told reporters at the airbase.

Marine Commander Maj. Gen. Rustico Guerrero has recommended the promotion of the slain Marines and the posthumous award to each one of them of the Gold Cross “for their gallantry in action.”

Assistance being processed

Lt. Cherryl Tindog, acting director of the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office, said financial assistance, scholarships and housing privileges were being processed for the dependents of the fallen Marines.

Reports from Zamboanga City confirmed that the manhunt for the Abu Sayyaf gunmen responsible for the deaths of the seven Marines—five of whom were  beheaded—and the wounding of 27 others continued yesterday.

So far, no further clashes with the group have been reported. “There are no significant updates to give but the operation is ongoing in Sulu,” Navy Ens. Hari Cunanan said.

Military officials said that despite the large number of casualties the Marines suffered, the Sulu clash still spelled a victory for the military, because the soldiers had captured a major Abu Sayyaf camp.

Were they sitting ducks?

But for the families of the slain soldiers, there was only grief.

Marilyn Loor, the partner of Cpl. Freddie Castellano, said she was baffled by the large number of casualties the Marines suffered.

“The entire platoon suffered. Most of them wounded, some were dead. What happened?” Loor asked.

She said it was as if the Marines were sitting ducks.

Guzman had earlier reported that the Marines stumbled upon a big group of Abu Sayyaf rebels in Panglahayan village early Thursday morning.

He said the troops were “somewhat overpowered” because of the sheer number of the Abu Sayyaf— about 70 men—but they were not ambushed as was earlier suspected.

Secretary Haroun Alrashid Lucman of the Department of the Interior and Local Government in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the national government should once and for all do its best to decimate the Abu Sayyaf.

Poverty at root

He said the national government should uplift the poor conditions in Moro communities to deny the Abu Sayyaf support. “Because of poverty, some people are easily convinced to support this kind of group. It makes them very vulnerable,” he said.

Although the military continues to dismiss the Abu Sayyaf as “bandits,” American military advisers are stationed in Mindanao to help the Philippine military counter the growing terrorist threat. Listed in the United States’ roster of international terrorist groups, the Abu Sayyaf has been linked to the international al-Qaida network, which calls for a fundamentalist Islamic jihad against the western world, and the Indonesia and Malaysia-based Jemaah Islamiyah terror group.

The Abu Sayyaf has been responsible for the kidnapping of foreigners in Mindanao and for bombings in various cities, including Manila. With a report from Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: abu sayyaf, Benigno Aquino III, Government, Marines, Military, Moro Insurgency, Terrorism
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