Askal joins soldiers in hunt for Abu Sayyaf

By JAIME LAUDE, The Philippine Star

CAMP BAUTISTA, Jolo, Sulu – She never misses military briefings and is usually the first on the truck during jump-off to operations, always ready to go with the troops for another day of hunting down Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

She’s no ordinary member of the Army’s combat force but a battle scarred seven-month-old askal, short for asong kalye or stray dog, whose master, Cpl. Benjamin Bongolan of the 104th Infantry Division’s security and strike force, has named “K-10.”

“There’s already a K-9,” Bongolan said, referring to trained canines assisting military and police in their work.

K-10, like her veteran war dog mother, never underwent formal dog training, Bongolan said. Instead, their long exposure to military activities could have honed their combat tracking skills, he noted.

Anybody who doesn’t know K-10 might dismiss her as an ordinary hungry askal – sometimes known as aspin or asong Pinoy - scouring for food inside this military camp.

But behind the amiable demeanor is a highly trained and fearless canine that has been with the troops in the frontlines - chasing not cats, but terrorists.

“She already has several positive combat operations to her name. She’s been acting as our lead scout and guide in most of our combat operations. Hindi gaya ng ibang aso yan na takot sa putukan (She’s not like other dogs that get scared of explosions),” Bongolan said.

Acting as lead scout for the troops, K-10 on several occasions sniffed her way towards enemies lying in ambush, saving the lives of the troops.

In every small unit military operation, it’s usually the lead scout who is exposed to enemy fire in the event of an ambush.

Last Wednesday, K-10, despite heavy presence of troops, squeezed herself aboard one of the four-by-four pickup trucks packed with soldiers securing Army chief Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano, who visited troops at Mt. Bud Datu in Indanan, Sulu.

Indanan was the scene of the bloody Aug. 18 fighting between Army troops and Abu Sayyaf terrorists that left 15 soldiers dead.

“Ganyang talaga yan. Basta may movement kasama palagi. Nauuna pang sumampa sa six-by-six truck yan. Parang nanay din nya (She’s like that. Whenever there’s troop movement, she’s always there. She’s even the first to get on the six-by-six truck. She’s just like her mother),” Bongolan fondly said of K-10.

‘Pekang,’ the combat hero

K-10’s mother “Pekang” is a combat decorated askal with a Gold Cross Medal to her name, awarded by the Philippine Army’s K-9 Unit for steering Army combat troops away from danger while the soldiers hit hard on the terrorists’ position in Panamao, Sulu four years ago.

With her Gold Cross Medal, Pekang has a regular supply of dog food provided by the Army’s K-9 Unit.

“Inilipad pa sa Manila yang si Pekang para tanggapin ang kanyang award mula sa Army K-9 unit (She was even flown to Manila for the awarding),” Bongolan said.

Pekang was a word scrawled on the steel gate of a Muslim residence in downtown Jolo. Bongolan and his team thought it was a good name for the now veteran dog, which they took in when she was still a puppy.

According to Bongolan, when Pekang doesn’t feel like going with the troops on mission, K-10 takes her place.

“Para silang naguusap niyan ng nanay niya. Basta nag mass-up na kami, andyan na yong isa sa kanila na kasama din sa briefing (It’s like they talk about who goes to battle. Once we mass-up, one of them would show up and even attend the briefing),” a perplexed Bongolan recalled.

Bongolan’s team agreed with his observation that both dogs are anything but ordinary.

“Magagaling ang dalawang yan. Malaking tulong sila sa aming operasyon laban sa mga Abu Sayyaf. Palaging nangunguna na ang mga yan sa mga lakaran (They are very good. They have been a big help in our operations against the Abu Sayyaf. They are always in the frontline),” the soldiers said.

K-10, like her mother, never mixes with other askals, minding her own business when on a mission.

The STAR was a witness to K-10’s unusual behavior when several other stray dogs maintained by troops of the 35th Infantry Battalion in Indanan tried to pick a fight with her. Instead of growling back, K-10 simply ignored them, focusing on her task.

When Yano’s security convoy left Mt. Bud Datu, former mountain fortress of the Moro National Liberation Front that is now occupied by combat troops, K-10 was already on aboard the pick-up truck assigned to her team.

And like the soldiers who are ready to press the trigger if the enemies stage an ambush, K-10 also stayed alert as the Army convoy passed several critical areas outside of Indanan on their way back to Jolo city.Black square indicates end of article.

[Return to "The Underdogs".]

Reprinted with permission from Jaime Laude, December 24, 2016. Original title was "Askal joins Abu hunters in front line".If you have photos of K-10, please send email to Elson T. Elizaga. Include date, place, name of handler, and event.

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