THREE Philippine Army soldiers and a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) team of Bohol died protecting the town of Inabanga when members of the Abu Sayyaf entered the small farming village of Sitio Ilaya in Barangay Napo to try to establish a base.
Last Wednesday, a year after the seige, the town paid tribute to Second Lt. Estelito Saldua Jr., Corporal Meljune Cajaban, Sgt. John Duero, and Swat member PO2 Rey Nazareno, who gave their lives to keep them safe.
It has been one year since but I can still vividly remember the piercing sound of the bullet that whisked within an inch of my shoulder.
“Tago mo sa lubi, dali!” one of the soldiers shouted at us when suspected Abu Sayyaf members, who were 20 meters away, started to get closer.
The soldier’s instruction came just after I finished my interview with a barangay tanod who was helping tired government troops by bringing them food and water amidst the gunfight.
I was with SunStar Cebu chief photographer Alex Badayos, Superbalita Cebu correspondent Alan Tangcawan, and dyRC radio reporter Romeo Marantal on the site where the gunfight ensued.
It was at dawn last April 11, 2017, when 11 Abu Sayyaf fighters sailed through the Inabanga river and disembarked on Bohol soil for the first time.
Heaving guns and other supplies, the Abu Sayyaf fighters placed high-powered M16 and M4 rifles on the ground to dry. Seawater had drenched these after they departed from Sulu in Mindanao.
For the people of Ilaya who thrive on fishing and farming, waking up early was routine.
The children also started to get out of their homes that day to do their daily chores.
It was then when some of them saw the glint of the firearms on the riverbanks. They immediately ran home, frightened, and told their parents about the guns.
At 5 a.m, when most of the residents should be tending to their crops and feeding their livestock, the first exchange of gunshots rang through what residents thought would be another quiet morning in Ilaya.
The clash between government troops and the rebels lasted for several weeks and displaced thousands of persons.
It has been one year since and the attack may have changed the history of Bohol, but it awakened the community’s faith and dedication to protect the land from intruders.