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Army probes Basilan 'tragedy' amid calls for all-out war vs ASG

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Army is now investigating the circumstances that led to the death of 6 soldiers, including a junior Army officer, in a clash with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan over the weekend.

"We're still investigating. I've already ordered the 1st Infantry Division (ID) to conduct an investigation," said Army chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri on Monday, November 3.

"It is a tragedy. We are saddened by that. We condole with the family of those who were killed yesterday," Iriberri added.

President Benigno Aquino III also reiterated his vow to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf. “We have been assured by the military and the police that we have sufficient forces to terminate these ill-intentioned groups,” Aquino said. 

The military has launched law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf in adjacent island Sulu to rescue at least 10 remaining hostages with the bandit group. The military said the bandits are now on the run following several clashes since the weekend. (READ: Military launches air strikes vs Abu Sayyaf)

In the wake of the Basilan incident, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman called for an all-out military offensive in Basilan. Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said this has yet to be studied. 

“We highly condemn this cowardly act of the ASG. This road project is meant to address hardships of the people here who feel they are neglected, I am recommending an all-out offensive against these terrorist groups,” Hataman was quoted in an article on GMA News Online.

Catapang said: "We cannot just say outrightly that there is a need. Maybe. I want to talk to the people of Basilan, to the province. Like what we did in Jolo, we will go there to talk to the cause-oriented groups. We will have a dialogue with them and ask them for their sentiments."

Catapang dismissed any connection between the Abu Sayyaf attack in Basilan and the intensified law enforcement operations against the bandit group in adjacent island Sulu.

"No connection, I think. The enemies there in Basilan are doing what they can do so if you lose your guard, they will take advantage of you," said Catapang. – Rappler.com