JOLO, Sulu-- Twelve soldiers received medals on Tuesday for gallantry in action against the Abu Sayyaf operating in this province.
National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo AAo led the awarding of medals for the 12 soldiers for their heroism.
"We congratulate our awardees. We know the sacrifices you have made to protect our country and to suppress these lawless elements who are trying to dominate this island," Lorenzana told the troops inside Camp Gen. Teodolfo Baustista.
"We know how hard it is to fight here in Sulu because you're fighting a very experienced and determined enemy," Lorenzana added.
"I congratulate you all for the job well done," he said.
Two of the 12 soldiers received Gold Cross Medals and another two got Silver Cross Medals. The remaining eight were awarded with Military Merit Medals.
At least 32 Abu Sayyaf members have been killed by government forces following the order of President Rodrigo Duterte to finish the Abu Sayyaf in six months, from January 1 to June 30 this year.
Lt. Col. Ramon Flores, commander of the 32nd Infantry Battalion and one of the awardees, said the two-hour battle they experienced on Friday against the Abu Sayyaf was so intense.
Flores led his men in the lair of the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul town, where they killed at least 10 Abu Sayyaf members.
"The Abu Sayyaf was hiding in an advantageous point. We were running after them in a hill. We continued pursuing them until they fled," he told the Philippines News Agency.
Flores said the Abu Sayyaf also used high-powered firearms.
Lorenzana assured the troops of the backing of President Duterte in the ongoing "focused military operations."
"We are closely monitoring your day-to-day activities here," he told the troops.
"We in the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) will sustain our operations against the Abu Sayyaf, and we will try to finish them within six months from January 1 to June 30," he said.
On Friday, President Duterte gave medals to 18 wounded troops admitted at the General Bautista Station Hospital.
Lorenzana and AAo arrived here Tuesday to assess the ongoing focused military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf bandits.
They were accompanied by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Army Chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, Air Force Chief Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, Naval Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado and other top government officials.
Source: Philippines News Agency