Slain soldiers in Sulu were on test mission

ZAMBOANGA CITY - "We still haven't learned our lessons," retired Col. Ariel Querubin, a former superintendent of the Philippine Marine Corps Training Center, said of the killings of seven Marines in a clash with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Patikul, Sulu, on Saturday.

"They were on a test mission, these were students, they may be the best considering they were with the Recon (reconnaissance team), they belonged to the Marines' elite team but the doctrine of the Recon is basically just to go out there to gather data and they are not there to engage their enemies," Querubin said Sunday in a phone interview.

Around 20 soldiers on two teams of the Force Reconnaissance Battalion were sent to Tugas, a hilly jungle in Patikul, for the purported test mission that led to the incident in which seven Abu Sayyaf bandits were also killed.

The soldiers, led by 2nd Lt. Alfredo Lorin VI, were on a mission to track down the kidnappers of Casilda Villarasa, wife of Sgt. Faustino Villarasa.

Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade and head of Joint Task Force Sulu, said the soldiers had a "chance meeting-encounter" with about 50 men in Tugas at around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.

But Senior Insp. Conrad William Gutierrez, chief of the Patikul police, said the soldiers were on their way to their detachment when "they were ambushed." Five Marines were killed on the spot and nine others were wounded, he said.

Cenabre, however, denied that what happened was an ambush, insisting that it was a chance encounter.

"Our troops were not able to reposition and retaliate because the engagement was within the civilian area, which is adjacent to a mosque. The attackers took advantage of the civilians, thus making it more difficult for our troops to fire back," he said.

Before sundown on Saturday, the Marine toll of lives had climbed to seven with the deaths of those wounded. The fatalities included Lorin, 26, a 2011 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, and Privates First Class Rene Gare, Andres Bogwana, Jay Alasain, Jayson Durante, Roxas Pizarro and Dominador Sabijon Jr.

Wounded were Sgt. Noel Cornelio and Privates First Class Miguel Edwin Maluyo, Roel Aquino, Carlito Sabellita, Cris An Bangalisan, Rajan Gadong, John Ywayan, Joemar Monte and Richard Gomez.

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