ZAMBOANGA CITY, 29 April 2004 — An army officer, who survived 21 months of captivity by communist rebels five years ago, was given the highest military award yesterday for the death of one Abu Sayyaf leader in the southern Philippines.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo awarded the Medal of Valor to Lt. Col. Noel Buan, commander of the 1st Scout Ranger Batallion, who led troops in a gunbattle against Hamsiraji Sali and his men in Basilan Island on April 8.
Sali was killed in that encounter along with two members of Buan’s Ranger team — Cpl. Ernesto Estember and Sgt. Isidro Dandin.
“The work of our brave men including the valuable support of the civilian population have truly made our fight against terrorism very successful even compared to other nations,” Arroyo said during an awarding ceremony in Zamboanga City.
The president also personally handed a reward of five million pesos ($89,700) to an informant who helped troops kill Mujib Susukan, another senior Abu Sayyaf leader, in February 2003.
“This is a big accomplishment in our fight against terrorism,” Arroyo said, citing the killing of Susukan and Salih.
Susukan took part in numerous abductions and killings including the kidnapping of 21 Malaysians, Filipinos and Westerners from resorts in Malaysia’s resort of Sipadan in 2000. Most of the captives were freed only after huge ransom payments.
Arroyo also awarded the Gold Cross medals to widows of the two soldiers slain in the Basilan clash of April 8.
Buan, who was wounded in the fighting, was held hostage by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the central Philippine island of Mindoro in 1999.
Then an intelligence officer, he was negotiating the surrender of some rebels when he was captured. He was released after 21 months in captivity.