4 ABU DOWN, 4 ON THE RUN
Abu Sayyaf Group remnants found
CLARIN, Bohol — The smell gave them away.
A habal-habal (motorcycle-taxi) driver yesterday became suspicious of his two smelly passengers and tipped off the police about the possible presence of the Abu Sayyaf members in the village of Bacani in Clarin, the town that adjoined Inabanga where eight members of the bandit group had escaped the government siege on April 11.
Joselito Melloria, a Boholano who had led the bandit group into his hometown during the Holy Week, was killed in the ensuing firefight near a cave in Bacani, where the ASG remnants were believed to have been hiding all this time.
The death of Melloria, a native of Barangay Napo in Inabanga who had left his hometown for Mindanao and later married the daughter of a leader of the bandit group, was confirmed by Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), and Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command (Centcom) commander, in a joint statement last night.
They said Melloria, also known as Abu Alih, assumed command and led the bandit group after the death of Muammar Askali alias Abu Rami last April 11.
“Melloria, being a native of the province (Bohol), assumed command and led the group in its attempt to escape the pursuing government troops. His death left the group with no leader and direction,” Lactao and Taliño said.
As of 8:30 p.m. last night, three more ASG members were killed in the Clarin firefight, bringing to four the total number of fatalities, according to Capt. Jojo Mascariñas, spokesperson of the 302nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army that was leading the hunt for the ASG in Bohol.
The three were killed by pursuing troops in the mountain village of Caboy, about 3 km from Barangay Bacani where state forces had earlier killed Melloria.
One of the fatalities was shot in the neck while the two others were hit in the body.
Their bodies were retrieved from the clash site past 10 p.m. and brought to Clarin Funeral Homes, where Melloria’s body was also brought.
The fatalities were among the about a dozen ASG members who landed in Bohol on board motorized bancas via the Inabanga River on April 10.
They were reportedly on a kidnapping and terror missions in Central Visayas and to disrupt the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) pre-summit meeting on Panglao, Bohol, which ended yesterday.
Responding policemen and soldiers engaged the terror group in a firefight on April 11, killing four ASG members, including their leader Abu Rami.
Two local residents, three soldiers and a policeman were also killed in the Napo battle.
Over the last week, state forces had been scouring areas near Inabanga to hunt the ASG members who had escaped, while authorities, up until yesterday, assured the bandits remained trapped within Inabanga and have not crossed to Cebu or to any nearby islands.
Earlier yesterday morning, a habal-habal driver was plying his route in Bacani when, sometime around 7 a.m., he was hailed by two disheveled men who asked to be brought to the next town of Tubigon to buy bread. Immediately, the driver noticed that the two men, both between 25 to 30 years old, spoke in an unfamiliar dialect. Morever, they smelled so bad it was as if they had not taken a bath in ages.
Even as the driver was starting to get suspicious, he advised the two men to instead buy bread in the town proper of Clarin as it was closer. He waited for the two men who bought about P400 worth of bread and brought them back to Barangay Bacani.
The driver, unable to shake his suspicion, drove straight to the town police station and told the police where he dropped off the two men.
SPO4 Romel Petecio, the deputy chief of the Clarin police, said they immediately alerted the Bohol Provincial Police Office (BPPO), which, in turn, quickly coordinated with the army forces for a joint search in the area.
The joint team chanced upon the alleged Abu Sayyaf member who immediately ran toward the cave, which was about 150 meters away. When bursts of gunfire rang out, the seven others went out of the cave and a gun battle ensued.
They ran toward the mountains in an attempt to hide among the trees and shrubs in the area. While trying to fire back, Melloria was hit in the left shoulder, right chest and left temple, killing him on the spot. His companions didn’t stop to help him but continued running.
After the fighting erupted, at least 1,000 residents were evacuated mostly from Bacani and the adjacent Barangay Nahawan to Clarin Cultural Center.
Petecio said personnel from the municipality came with several vehicles to take the civilians out of the area lest they get caught in the crossfire.
Authorities also barred private vehicles from entering Barangay Nahawan, and they were seen fleeing toward this village from Barangay Bacani.
The municipal government of Inabanga, through their Facebook page, asked all motorists coming from the town of Talibon and are bound for Tagbilaran City via Inabanga not to proceed and instead stay within Barangay Sto. Rosario as they could be hijacked and taken as human shields by the bandit group.
The police and soldiers who have cordoned the area reported that the cave has a narrow entrance — about a meter wide — but the depth is at least seven meters. The cave does not connect to the other caves in the municipality, according to military officials in the area.
Taliño and Lactao, in their joint statement, lauded the community for helping government troopers fight the Abu Sayyaf members in Bohol.
“The success of the operations is largely attributed to the active collaboration among the government security forces, the local government unit and the civilian communities,” they said. /With reports from Jhunnex Napallacan and Senior Reporter Ador Vincent S. Mayol
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