It was to be the first assignment for dozens of new soldiers fresh from their six-month training in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon province.
“They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” said Joint Task Force Sulu Commander Major General William Gonzales.
Sulu is the lair of one of Southeast Asia’s most notorious extremist groups, the Abu Sayyaf, and new soldiers see their tour of duty there as part of their initiation into the military service.
“They were supposed to report to their battalions today (Sunday),” said Gonzales, who expressed a feeling of great loss.
The flight manifest showed there were 61 privates and privates 1st class – new soldiers mostly in their twenties – on the ill-fated flight. With them were two technical sergeants, seven sergeants, two staff sergeants, and a dozen corporals.
Not in the manifest were three pilots and several other personnel.
As of Monday morning, July 5, the military said at least 49 of the 96 soldiers in the crash had died and that 47 others were injured. On-ground, three civilians had also died, and four others were injured.
Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said the city government was making sure their hospital system would not be overwhelmed by the admission of dozens of injured soldiers airlifted from Sulu on Sunday.
Zamboanga saw a surge in COVID-19 cases in April and May, stretching the capacity of its hospital system, but the number of cases had lowered in recent weeks after city hall implemented strict quarantine measures.
Climaco and Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Cirilito Sobejana met at the Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) on Sunday night to coordinate military and local government efforts.
“The Chief of Staff is here and so far, the military doctors have been in charge. The local government is assisting them,” Climaco told Rappler.
Local officials said a city hall team from the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office had to transfer seven of the soldiers to the Zamboanga City Medical Center, and four others to the West Metro Medical Center and the Zamboanga Doctors’ Hospital (ZDH). The 11 soldiers were struggling for their lives and required better facilities than the military hospital in Camp Navarro to which they were initially brought. – Rappler.com