MANILA (Updated) -- The Philippine military said the decapitated bodies of two Vietnamese crewmen abducted last year by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits were found Wednesday, July 5, on the island province of Basilan, the military said.
The military's Western Mindanao Command said the bodies of Hoang Thong and Hoang Va Hai were discovered by villagers in the town of Sumisip. Pictures showed their decapitated heads beside their bodies.
"The bodies were found at 5:40 in the morning by a member of the local populace," Colonel Juvymax Uy, commander of the Joint Task Force Basilan, said.
Officials said the bodies will undergo forensic examination as they coordinate with the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila. Soldiers and policemen are getting more details about the incident, they added.
"The cadavers will be made to undergo forensic exams as coordination with the Vietnamese embassy is also simultaneously done," he added.
The two were among six crewmen of the Vietnamese cargo vessel MV Royal 16 taken by gunmen last November in seawaters off Basilan amid a wave of sea assaults that have alarmed the region's leaders.
Read: Abu Sayyafs kidnap 6 Vietnamese sailors
Hoang Vco, 28, one of the six crewmen, was rescued in June by the operating troops of Joint Task Force Basilan in Sampinit Complex, in Sumisip town.
Three other Vietnamese crewmen who remain captive by the Abu Sayyaf were identified as Pham Minh Tuan, Do Trung Hieu, and Tran Khac Dung.
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr., the military's regional commander, condemned the "barbaric" beheading.
"In no way does the Abu Sayyaf group represent our Muslim brothers who are true followers of Islam," Galvez said.
In February, gunmen attacked another Vietnamese cargo ship off Tawi-Tawi province, killing a Vietnamese crewman and abducting six others, including the vessel's captain, the Philippine Coast Guard and the ship's owner said.
Read: 1 dead, 6 abducted in Vietnamese ship attack in Tawi-Tawi
President Rodrigo Duterte and his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts have struggled to deal with a wave of attacks by the Abu Sayyaf and allied gunmen who target tugboats and cargo ships along their busy sea borders.
The three countries launched coordinated maritime patrols last month to intensify their fight against Islamic militants, piracy, kidnapping, terrorism and other crimes in regional waters.
AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr., in a press conference, said the military is exhausting all efforts to suppress the Abu Sayyaf bandits' capabilities to perform lawless activities.
Padilla said there was also an indication that the group's hostile actions "have been degraded tremendously."
He noted that there were no abductions recorded in the seas of Zamboanga, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi area in the recent months.
"On our part, we are conducting security operation to degrade their capacity to do such acts," he added. (AP/Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)