The Philippine army deployed 120 more soldiers to reinforce troops battling al-Qaeda-linked militants on southern Jolo island where 57 people were killed in clashes this week, a military spokesman said yesterday.
The army company arrived on Jolo aboard a military C-130 transport plane yesterday, the first group from two battalions -- about 1,000 soldiers -- to back up some 4,000 army troops and marines pursuing Abu Sayyaf extremists.
"We are continuing with our operations to be able to cordon off and finally destroy the Abu Sayyaf," army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres said.
The army lost 25 soldiers in two separate clashes on Thursday with the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo -- the largest number of government casualties in a single day in recent years, armed forces Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon said on Friday.
Twenty-seven Abu Sayyaf fighters died in Thursday's clashes. Another soldier and four militants were killed in separate gunbattles earlier in the week, the military said.
Esperon said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo directed the military to review operational battlefield policies after Thursday's attack.
In a statement yesterday, Arroyo said "there will be no let-up in our fight against terror."
"The military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf must continue, not as an act of vengeance but as a strategy to win the peace," she said.
Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Ba-carro, an armed forces spokesman, said among the slain militants was Mazdal Jumdail, the alleged right-hand man of Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad. He is also the son of another senior leader, Umbra Jumdail, popularly known as "Dr Abu."
Dr Abu reportedly harbored two Jemaah Islamiyah operatives -- Dulmatin and Umar Patek -- for several months in his mountain stronghold on Jolo last year. Washington has offered a US$100,000 reward for him and US$15,000 for Parad.
Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabra,l said that about 35,000 people had sought shelter in homes of relatives or government evacuation centers to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
Sulu provincial Governor Sakur Tan said the evacuees came from the towns of Parang, Maimbung and Indanan, which are on the western coast of Jolo.
"We hope it will not spill over to the other municipalities," he said.
He said he had no reports of fresh fighting as of noon yesterday.
"There is a lull at the moment. That means they [the Abu Sayyaf] also got tired. Maybe they are on the run," Tan said.
The military estimates that Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for deadly bombings, high-profile ransom kidnappings and beheadings, has about 300 to 400 guerrillas, down from more than 1,000 during its heyday in early 2000.