A total of 133 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members were killed and 164 were wounded in government security operations in Sulu in 2015, military data showed.
But the report of Joint Task Group Sulu said that of the 133 slain Abu Sayyaf, only 12 bodies were recovered.
An Army official, who declined to be quoted for his lack of authority to speak to the media, explained that this was because the ASG found it “taboo” to leave a comrade behind.
The information is verified from two or three intelligence units of the military before it is added to the death toll. A fatality won’t be added to the death toll if it comes from a single source.
Security forces were also able to arrest 13 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group and recover 53 firearms in the last 12 months.
Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of Joint Task Group Sulu, attributed these gains to the instruction of higher ups of “relentless focused military operations to neutralize the armed group and keep them on the run.”
But these military operations in Sulu also cost the lives of 18 government forces and injured 82 more as of Dec. 31.
The strength of Abu Sayyaf in Sulu based on military data is at 264. These are only the identified ones and it does not include the supporters, families and followers that sometimes join firefights whenever these erupt.
Sulu is known as a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, where they are keeping their hostages in exchange of ransom. As of Dec. 31, 16 kidnap victims were either released, escaped, rescued or retrieved.
In November, the terror group beheaded its Malaysian hostage, prompting President Benigno Aquino III to order intensified operations against the bandits.
The military in Sulu is hunting for four more hostages: one foreign, who is a Dutch national named Ewold Horn, and three locals.
Authorities would not confirm if the four hostages in Samal Island in Davao del Norte (two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina) and the Italian national abducted in Dipolog last October were taken to Sulu.
In a video last November, the Abu Sayyaf took responsibility over the Samal kidnapping and demanded P1 billion in exchange of their captives.