How suspected Abus slipped into Bohol
INABANGA TOWN, Bohol – Julita Cenabre was trembling in fear as she was holding on to their three-month-old granddaughter at the elementary school in Barangay Kawayan, Inabanga town, Bohol.
She was not used to the exchange of heavy artillery and the sounds of bombs exploding as government troopers hunted down at least 60 suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) who arrived in this town on board motorbancas through the Inabanga River.
Before sunset on Tuesday, nine persons were confirmed dead by the military and nine bombs had been dropped by the Philippine Air Force in Napo and their neighboring barangays in the bid to flush out the lawless elements.
Among those killed were five suspected ASG members, three soldiers and one policeman, according to the joint statement released by Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, head of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) and Lieutenant General Oscar Lactao, Commander of the Central Command, on Tuesday afternoon.
The statement said government troopers were also able to recover three M-16 rifles and an M-4 carbine from the ASG members as of 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
‘Visitors’ from Jolo
Although the police and the military suspected the armed men belonged to ASG, some residents in Napo said the group may be part of the Maute group from Mindanao.
Marina Melloria, 51, said her cousin, Joselito, married a woman from Mindanao suspected of being a member of the Maute group.
Joselito was seen by a resident escorting a group of about 15 heavily armed men on Monday afternoon whom he described as his guests.
“Unsa na man na dong (Who are they?),” asked Roger Cellan, a resident of Sitio Ylaya, Barangay Napo when he saw Joselito passing by.
“Mga bisita nako (My visitors),” was Joselito’s reply.
Cellan said Joselito told him that they came from Jolo, Sulu and traveled to Bohol province on board their pump boats.
Like the other neighbors, Cellan became uneasy with the presence of armed men in their community.
The incident happened two days after the United States Embassy in Manila issued a travel advisory on Sunday and in the wake of preparation of the province for the meetings for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit scheduled for April 18-22.
In the travel advisory, the US Embassy warned Americans in the Philippines to be careful in traveling to Central Visayas, citing “unsubstantiated yet credible information” that terrorist groups may attempt to conduct kidnappings there.
“The US Embassy has received unsubstantiated yet credible information that terrorist groups may attempt to conduct kidnappings in Central Visayas, which includes both Cebu and Bohol provinces,” a travel advisory on the embassy’s website said.
‘We were all scared’
Inabanga is about 71 kilometers from the capital Tagbilaran City but is an hour away from pumpboat to Cebu City.
The gun battle that started at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday sent at least 1,200 residents fleeing their homes from barangays Napo, Calenti and Banahao who were scared of being hit as bombs were being dropped.
At least 600 residents were taking shelter at the elementary school in Barangay Kawayan while another 600 residents were at the chapel in Barangay Banahao.
“We had not experienced this before. We were all scared,” said a resident who declined to be identified.
At least three pump boats loaded with armed men were seen entering the Inabanga River that leads to Napo River, an interior village about 10 km from the national highway.
Other towns can be accessed through Barangay Napo. These are the municipalities of Danao, Buenavista, Dagohoy and Carmen.
Jose Genosas was hauling sand and gravel from Napo River on Monday afternoon when he noticed three motorbancas passing by.
‘Bullets as big as corn ears’
Thinking that these were tourists, he didn’t pay attention until his neighbors started talking about the presence of armed men in Napo.
Children told their parents of men, cleaning their long firearms with “bullets as big as corn ears.”
Alarmed, the parents informed their barangay leaders who then tipped off the police who later coordinated with the military.
Joint police and military went to the area past 5 a.m. on Tuesday and were met with heavy gunfire by armed men who were suspected to be ASG members.
According to Captain Jojo Mascariñas, spokesman of the 302 Brigade, there were at least 60 members of the ASG fighting against government troopers.
The first bomb was dropped by a Philippine Air Force aircraft at 1:45 p.m. As of 4:40 p.m., nine bombs had been exploded, causing the ground to shake as the residents screamed in fear.
“We were scared of the bombs exploding since morning,’ said Marlyn Bautista, 40, a resident of Sitio Luak, Barangay Napo.
She joined her neighbors in crossing the river and walking at least 50 meters just to seek shelter in the Kawayan Elementary School.
The Inabanga municipal government also ordered a forced evacuation due to the ongoing gun battle.
Frank Baylosis, Inabanga information officer, said in a phone interview that barangay officials went house-to-house to convince residents to “abandon their homes and move to a safer place” on Tuesday morning. -with a report from Doris C. Bongcac and Tonee Despojo Inquirer Visayas/ac
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