Philippine Daily Inquirer
GOV’T TROOPS KILL BOHOLANO ‘ABU’
Government forces caught up with a group of fleeing Abu Sayyaf members on Saturday, triggering a gun battle that left one of the militants—a Bohol native—dead. The clash erupted when a motorcycle-taxi driver grew suspicious of his smelly passenger and tip
A joint team of soldiers and police caught up with a group of fleeing Abu Sayyaf members on Saturday, triggering a gun battle that left one of the militants—a Bohol native—dead.
The clash erupted shortly after a motorcycle-taxi driver became suspicious of his smelly passenger and tipped off the police about the possible presence of the members of the Abu Sayyaf in the town of Clarin in Bohol.
Slain in the clash was Joselito Melloria, a native of Inabanga town who had left his village to marry the daughter of a leader of the bandit group.
Last week, five Abu Sayyaf gunmen and four security forces were killed when security forces foiled an attempt by the gunmen to set up a base in nearby Inabanga town.
One of those slain was identified by the military as Abu Rami, a young Abu Sayyaf leader blamed for the beheadings last year of two Canadian hostages and a German in February.
A joint contingent of police and military troops secured a cave and its surroundings in Barangay Bacani where they believed the remaining seven others had been hit.
The cave has a narrow entrance of just about a meter wide, but is believed to be at least 7 meters deep. According to the military officials, the cave doesn’t connect to other caves in the municipality.
The gunmen were allegedly planning to set up a base and conduct terror activities in nearby provinces from Inabanga last week.
They were reportedly planning to disrupt Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings in the tourist area of Panglao town, which ended on Saturday.
Melloria was a local Christian villager who converted to Islam and later married the daughter of an Abu Sayyaf leader a few years ago. Security analysts said he later became associated with Abu Rami and the two subsequently planned the foray into Bohol.
But security forces and the US and Australian embassies were warned of the Abu Sayyaf plan after receiving intelligence reports.
President Duterte visited Bohol last week and offered a P1-million peso reward for any information that would lead to the arrest or neutralization each of the Abu Sayyaf stragglers. He also said he intended to “arm the civilians” to protect themselves from the militants, a controversial statement that did not sit well with rights groups.
The subsequent pursuit operation forced the bandit group to move to Clarin, a coastal municipality which is about 11 kilometers from the adjacent town of Inabanga.
Military sources told the Inquirer that an Abu Sayyaf member rode a “habal-habal,” or a motorcyle-taxi, to take him back to Barangay Bacani, a distance of about 3 km, past noon on Saturday. He had come from the village of Centro to buy bread.
The driver noticed that his passenger was disheveled and smelly as if he had not taken a bath for a long time.
“The passenger didn’t also speak Bol-anon, but in a different dialect,” said a military officer who asked not to be identified.
The driver dropped off his passenger at the barangay proper of Bacani and proceeded to the police station to report what he noticed. The police then alerted the military and formed a joint team to go to Bacani.
The team chanced upon the Abu Sayyaf member who immediately ran toward the cave, which was about 150 meters away.
Bursts of gunfire from the cornered gunmen then followed. A firefight followed but the militants ran to the forested mountains.
Melloria was hit in the left shoulder, right chest and left temple, killing him on the spot. Pursuit operations were ongoing as of Saturday evening.
In the meantime, at least 1,000 residents were evacuated mostly from Bacani and the adjacent Barangay Nahawan to the Clarin Cultural Center.
SPO4 Romel Petecio, the local police chief, said personnel from the municipality came with several vehicles to evacuate fearful civilians.
Authorities also barred private vehicles from entering Barangay Nahawan.
The municipal government of Inabanga warned motorists coming from the town of Talibon and were bound for Tagbilaran City via Inabanga not to proceed. The desperate Abu Sayyaf gunmen could hijack their vehicle and take as human shields, it said.