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Moro rebels taunt Filipino soldiers: Come nearer, we’ll behead you!
Publication Date : 25-09-2013
“Lumapit kayo para pugutan namin kayo!” (Come here so we can behead you!)
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters making a last stand taunted Scout Rangers 30 to 50 metres away in one of the close-quarter combat scenes in Barangay (village) Santa Catalina here in the past few days.
Asked what the Army’s elite troopers shouted back, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, the military spokesman, said: “None.”
“If they did, they would have compromised their positions. They should not be distracted from their primary mission,” he told the Inquirer.
Zagala said the story was narrated to him by one of the junior officers who was wounded during the fighting, which entered its 16th day on Tuesday in coastal communities in the city. Some 110,000 residents have been displaced and are now staying in 36 evacuation centres.
A total of 128 combatants—110 MNLF rebels and 18 soldiers and policemen—have been killed and 161 have been wounded. Ninety-three rebels have been captured and 45 others have surrendered.
“It is almost over,” Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in a brief press conference with Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.
“We will say it is over when we say it’s over. As of now, we cannot say that because we are still accounting for some hostages. We are still looking for two women, a child and an elderly person,” Gazmin said.
Gazmin and Bautista have been on top of the military strategy against rebels belonging to the MNLF faction led by founding chair Nur Misuari who entered the city’s coastal villages on September 9, supposedly to hold a peace rally and hoist their “Independent Bangsamoro Republik” flag at City Hall.
Military air strikes
President Aquino, as Commander in Chief, had overseen the operations for eight days at the war room of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) before flying back to Manila on Sunday. He continues to monitor the situation, Roxas said.
On Tuesday, the Inquirer news team saw an SF-260 Marchetti plane drop nine 250-pound bombs on Sumatra Island, just across the mangrove area in Barangay Talon-Talon, around 1 p.m. Eight of the bombs exploded.
An hour later, MG520 helicopters fired machine guns on the island. A Navy vessel also joined the attack. The MNLF forces replied only with sniper fire.
Zagala confirmed the use of the military aircraft “for close air support” and “persuasion flights” after some 30 rebels were able to escape from the constricted areas and were sighted on the island.
“As per a report, they are holding some hostages, but we don’t have the numbers,” he added.
By “constriction,” Gazmin said the military would box in the rebels in one area and would close in little by little. As of Tuesday, troops were working within a 100-by-100 metre area and were clearing five more structures in the combat zone.
“It is like what you see in the movies where the soldiers would shout ‘Clear!’ and then they (barge) in,” said Gazmin, a retired Army general who was with the elite Special Forces.
Zagala said a total of 184 hostages had either escaped or had been rescued. “This morning we received a total of 15 hostages, but it turned out that only eight are real (hostages) and the rest are Misuari followers,” Zagala said.
Among the rebels posing as hostages in Santa Catalina was MNLF commander Salip Idjal whom Gazmin described as a “trusted” aide of Misuari.
But the military also lost yet another Army junior officer. On Tuesday, 1st Lt. Francis Damian, 28, was shot in the head on Monday during the fighting in Barangay Santa Barbara. He died at Ciudad Medical Zamboanga.
Damian, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 2007, was with the 3rd Light Reaction Company, an elite Army unit. His wife is a Navy junior officer.
On Monday, 1st Lt. Florencio Mikael Meneses, 27, a member of PMA Class 2011, died from wounds in the same hospital. His body was claimed by his father and girlfriend and will be flown back to his hometown in Bulacan province.