A SOLDIER, whose tired arms clutched a high-powered rifle, kept nodding gently in what seemed to be a troubled sleep.
A six-year-old child, looking silently in the glare of the hot afternoon, gazed at the mountains where her village sat, still impassable.
These were among the scenes that greeted anyone brave enough to be in that moment in Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo, Inabanga, Bohol when government forces clashed with Abu Sayyaf members during the Holy Week.
“When we heard about the encounter, we felt excited. But we cleared our heads to know our enemy, to catch them, and to protect the residents,” a member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) told SunStar Cebu.
Local police, who had just reached home after being deployed in Cebu City for international meetings, were sent to Inabanga as reinforcements to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Near the abandoned houses in Ilaya, one could hear the chirping of birds and noises of hungry farm animals, left in a hurry when the gunfire started.
“Pagkadungog namos nirakrakay, nanagan nami (When we heard the gunshots, we ran),” said Lauriana Jamil. She showed a wound that marked her knee after she fell on the ground while fleeing.
Superintendent Mark Solero, chief of the Regional Health Service who was tasked to check on the evacuees, said that the Police Regional Office-Central Visayas will send, apart from a doctor, a psychologist who can help the local government’s social workers de-brief the residents stressed by the encounter.
“We are concerned about the evacuees in case they have to stay longer here in the center. (We’re concerned) especially about the psychological aspect,” he said while visiting the Southern Inabanga National High School, one of the 12 evacuation centers.
Children suffering from fever and stomach aches worried parents.
“They were traumatized by the bullets and bombs. They don’t belong in our land,” said Rosemarie dela Torre said. As a way to flush out the bandits, the Air Force dropped bombs on part of Inabanga town.
The military advised the residents to go back to their houses in the morning to feed their animals but not to linger until nighttime.
“Because that is when the Abu Sayyaf move,” a military official said.
After the clash, the whole stretch of the Inabanga River was dotted by soldiers and local police, who searched for eight other Abu Sayyaf fighters, who were heavily armed with guns made in the United States.
“Ma’am, if you value your life, please don’t cross the river,” a soldier called out when journalists tried to go to the scene where three members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), including Abu Rami, lay dead. Rami was described as the group’s leader.
Two elderly residents were among those killed, and an investigation is ongoing to find out whether they had helped the ASG or were caught in the crossfire.
Three military officials and a policeman were killed in the first encounter last Holy Week.
(As of 11 last night, at least four persons were reported killed in another clash, this time in Clarin town.)
Despite the encounter in Inabanga, a conference of Southeast Asian officials took place without any incident last week in Panglao, Bohol Province’s popular resort town.
For now, government troops are still tracking down the ASG starting from Sitio Ilaya where they docked their boats last April 11, straight to Barangay Napo where the encounter happened.
The ASG were situated in Canlinte, surrounded by tall coconut trees and a lush forest.
“They are constantly moving around Inabanga but we as-sure the public that they are contained,” the military official said.
Wounded, they sought refuge in an abandoned house in Barangay Lumboy after the residents had evacuated.
“They used some of my medicines and their blood was all over my backyard,” Silvestre Millares said.
After he alerted the Army, troops bringing a K-9 unit followed the scent of the blood leading to Cawayan and final-ly to Lonoy Cainsican, where Joselito Melloria, the guide, had reportedly made contact with a friend. (Melloria was among those killed in yesterday’s encounter in Clarin, a town near Inabanga.)
A few meters from his house was another suspected ASG member, buried in a shallow grave.
Lonay Cainsican also has two caves known to be passable, although dangerous, which lead all the way to Lonoy Roma.
The fighters were suspected to have passed through these caves and were reportedly sighted in Dagohoy by some residents.
Their last known location was in Ilihan.
“Maynta’g madakpan na sila para mahusay na ang among pamuyo (I hope they will get caught soon so that we can go back to our lives),” Jamil said, as she her child closer.
“Pero di na gud mausab ilang gibuhat diri sa Bohol (But what they did to Bohol will never change),” she added.