Bloody clashes have broken out on the island of Bohol today (Tuesday, April 11) after the tourist hotspot was infiltrated by Abu Sayyaf islamist terrorists.
The firefights erupted just days after the American Embassy warned that the Islamic State-afilliated group was planning to abduct tourists in the Central Visayas region — far beyond their usual strongholds in the deep south of the country.
Three soldiers, a cop, and at least five terrorists were killed in the clashes that started before dawn, according to a joint statement issued by the police and the military.
It read: “Tactical victories have been accomplished, with five body counts and a number of high powered firearms recovered as of 1pm today.
“Four of our brave troops, however, made the supreme sacrifice of giving their lives during the course of the operation.”
The statement was signed by military Central Command chief Lieutenant General Oscar Lactao and police regional director Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño.
The arrival of at least 60 terrorists on three pump boats was spotted by people living near the riverside of Sitio Ilaya of Barangay Ilaya in Inabanga town.
The joint statement thanked them for their vigilance. “We want to congratulate our people in Bohol. The government security forces simply reinforced the vigilance of the Boholanos who organised themselves into a strong force to keep the province safe from any threat groups.”
It also paid tribute to the fallen. “Their heroism will forever be engraved in the hearts of our people. Today’s incident showcases how strong we can be if all stakeholders, the law enforcers, the civilian government and the community, act together.”
The first clash broke out at 5.20am. By 7am, Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año announced that despite being armed with heavy calibre weapons, the terrorists had been cornered in “an isolated section of the sitio”.
Año also announced that they had sent in reinforcements by land, sea and air.
The battle was effectively over by 1pm and the military began clearing operations.
During the fighting, more than a thousand residents took shelter in a local school and chapel.
“We had not experienced this before. We were all scared,” said one villager, who declined to be identified.
The clashes came just two days after the US Embassy in Manila issued a travel advisory warning Americans to be careful when travelling 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,” it said.
Only yesterday, the warning had been played down by Armed Forces Chief Eduardo Año and President Duterte.
Speaking at Davao airport as he prepared to leave on an official visit to the Middle East, the president said: “Why should you worry about the US embassy? I should be worrying about my country, not the American embassy.”
Speaking at the same location, the army chief said: “We have to be vigilant. We would like to encourage the public to report suspicious people, suspicious objects or circumstances so the Armed Forces of the Philippines can take immediate, fast counter actions.
“But right now, we don’t see any terror threat.”