The military on Monday said that the bodies of at least 16 members of the Abu Sayyaf have been recovered in Patikul and Talipao, Sulu after a series of firefights starting Friday.
Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander, Western Mindanao Command, told ABS-CBN News the Abu Sayyaf death toll inthe latest skirmishes has climed to 22.
The slain militants include three alleged sub-commanders — Mohammad Said alias Ama Maas, Latip Sapii, and Sairulla Asbang.
The Joint Task Group Sulu said, three of the bodies were recovered in a shallow grave in one of the remote villages of Talipao.
Local residents confirmed the bodies belong to Abu Sayyaf fighters.
Seventeen soldiers have been wounded in the first clash.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday that five more battalions will be deployed in Sulu to run after the Abu Sayyaf as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte,
“We are going to full force at saka all out operations sa kanila soon. We are adding five battalions, or about 2,500 people. Sulu lang iyon,” Lorenzana told reporters after the National Heroes Day ceremonies at the Libingang ng mga Bayani.
Lorenzana would not say when the additional forces would be deployed.
Duterte last week ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines destroy the ISIS-linked group after the beheaded an 18-year-old hostage in Sulu.
“Ngayon hinahabol na sila. Operations sa kanila intensified. About 20 na ang nakukuha sa kanila pero wala namang hostage na nakukuha. Maganda ang tago nila,” Lorenzana said.
“Ang ginawa nila, hiwa-hiwalay iyan tapos nagtago sa mga bahay-bahay. Mahirap hanapin,” GMA News quoted the defese chieg as saying.
“Hindi pa [full force] kasi iyong mga tropa na dadalhin natin hindi pa kumpleto eh.
While the Abu Sayyaf and other extremist groups in Mindanao continue to get the recognition of the jihadist ISIS, Lorenzana said that ISIS is not keen on associating with their local version.
“Wala pa kaming indication na nandito sila eh pero iyong mga nandito, gusto nilang i-recognize sila ng ISIS. Iyong ISIS ayaw naman silang i-recognize kasi hindi naman daw maganda iyong leadership nila eh,” Lorenzana said.
“Hindi sila ma-control ng ISIS... Pero ang mga taong ito, tulisan lang ito at mga terrorist. They don’t have any loyalty to anybody,” he added.
Lorenzana believes the Abu Sayyaf will no longer behead another kidnap victim since they need the ransom money to fund their activities.
He said the group might create “diversionary tactics” in urban areas.
“Iyan ang pinaghahandaan natin. We know that they might create diversionary tactics dito. Manila, Cebu Davao, wherever, mga metropolitan centers. Doon nga takot si Presidente na baka magkaroon ng diversionary actions in urban centers,” Lorenzana said.