Philippine leader visits south after fatal clash

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Benigno Aquino III visits dozens of hospitalized troops, families of 18 soldiers killed in 10-hour fighting with Abu Sayyaf

By Hader Glang

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III visited Wednesday hospitals in the troubled south treating dozens of soldiers injured in a weekend clash with Daesh-linked militants that left 18 of their comrades dead.

Major Filemon Tan, Jr., Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) spokesperson, told reporters after Aquino arrived in Zamboanga City in the morning, he attended the wake of Cpl. Rodelio Bangcairin in nearby Ayala village.

From there, Aquino — also commander-in-chief of the armed forces — traveled to Camp Navarro General Hospital at WestMinCom headquarters where 38 of the soldiers wounded in Saturday’s 10-hour fighting were admitted.

He then proceeded to the Edwin Andrews Air Base hospital to meet with six other servicemen.

Tan said the president’s visit shows his “great concern over the condition of his soldiers”.

More than 50 troops sustained injuries in the clash in the island province of Basilan — an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

Immediately after the battle, at least five militants were reported to have died, including a Moroccan national and a son of group leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Some military reports, however, have put the Abu Sayyaf death toll since the encounter at up to 24.

During his visit, Aquino was accompanied by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces chief General Hernando Irriberi, and refused to take questions from reporters at WestMinCom headquarters.

He later met with the families of the 18 slain troops.

Maj. Gerardo Barrientos, 1st Tabak Division commander, said the visit was aimed at giving moral support and extending financial assistance to the families of wounded and slain troops.

He detailed the assistance as including: P250,000 (more than $5,400) from the Office of the President; P180,000 cash remuneration (six times the average soldier’s pay); P50,000 from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Mutual Benefit Association, Inc.; P80,000 for burial expenses; and P100,000 from the Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative.

Barrientos added that the government would also provide scholarship grants to the dependents of the fallen soldiers.

“This is over and above the [average] remunerations provided by our organization,” he said.

WestMinCom spokesperson Tan said that the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in the hinterlands of Basilan was ongoing Wednesday.

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