ISABELA CITY, Basilan — (UPDATE) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is expected to arrive here Thursday to give a pep talk to soldiers who have been fighting the Abu Sayyaf since last month.
The fierce clashes have left 57 troopers and 81 al Qaeda-linked bandits dead.
Before her Basilan trip, Arroyo will join soldiers in a “boodle fight” at noon at the First Marine Brigade headquarters after presiding over a joint military and police command conference at the Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Zamboanga City.
“She will talk to the men. She will talk to the officers,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told reporters.
In brief remarks during the command conference at Westmincom headquarters, Esperon thanked the President for supporting the offensives against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan.
“I speak for everyone of here when I say that your unwavering support comes as a great motivator,” he said.
“We will repay it with our fortified resolve to carry out our duties,” he added.
The military chief said in closing: “Each one of us has a role to play in this current situation. We must get our acts together.”
“We must act with good judgment, with courage, and determination,” he added.
Last Saturday, 15 Marines and over 40 Abu Sayyaf members were killed after they clashed with the Abu Sayyaf in Ungkaya Pukan town here. An Air Force pilot was killed when his aircraft crashed after giving air support to troops in the encounter.
A month earlier, 14 Marines were killed, 10 of whom were beheaded, when Marines here were attacked by combined Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF) rebels and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Al-Barkah town.
In the neighboring island province of Sulu, four engagements between government forces and the Abu Sayyaf and rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels left 27 Army soldiers and over 40 rebels killed.