MUSLIM rebels armed with assault rifles stormed the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan City before dawn Wednesday in what was believed to be the biggest jail rescue and freed more than 150 prisoners.
The rebels, believed to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), overpowered the jail guards and helped their detained colleagues escape. Some prisoners took advantage of the raid and also took off.
Reports said six of the inmates who escaped were gunned down. A jail guard – Excell Rey Vicedo – was also killed.
A village official, Satar Manalundong, was reportedly shot dead by policemen after some of the prisoners ran to his house. Manalundong, a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was said to have fought with policemen, but his family denied this and claimed he was shot dead by members of the Special Action Force.
A police officer said the escapees were either BIFF members or former members of the MILF.
Among the inmates who were believed to be the subject of the daring raid were the Tamayan brothers who are facing murder charges, and the Salik brothers who were charged with drug trafficking.
Felix Capalla, one of the leaders of the inmates, said more than a hundred armed men raided the jail.
The attackers, wearing black and armed with high-powered firearms, rescued prisoners who are mostly members of the 105th Command of the BIFF.
Capalla said that he had warned Supt. Peter John Bungat, provincial jail warden, of the plan to spring some inmates.
“I gave him (Bungat) information that some of the inmates have told us to prepare for rescue and escape. This was last December 31. I saw additional troops deployed in the area from December 31 up to January 1. But after that, I saw few people manning the jail, then came the attack,” Capalla said.
It was learned that the additional security forces deployed to guard the facility were pulled out a day before the raid.
The MILF, which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, did not issue any official statement about the incident. The jail had been attacked by rebels in previous years and also freed their prisoners.
Authorities had so far recaptured three of the inmates.
The jail had a population of 1,511 at the time of the raid.
Appeal for calm
Malacañang appealed for calm and sobriety, saying that the police and military are pursuing the inmates who escaped.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are in hot pursuit of the rest of the escaped inmates.
“The PNP and the AFP are working closely to capture the escapees. Hence, we appeal for calm and sobriety,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“We assure our people that manhunt operations on the escapees are now underway as BJMP units in Region 12 and nearby provinces are on heightened alert,” he added.
Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno ordered the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) to intensify the manhunt operation against the fugitives.
Sueno said the inmates took the opportunity to escape through the back door of the jail when some 100 heavily armed men attacked the facility at 1 a.m.
Sueno said two of the fugitives surrendered to a local official while four were caught by policemen and jailguards. Six of the escaped inmates were gunned down.
“I have ordered BJMP-Region 12 to be on heightened alert, and to work closely with the Philippine National Police to capture all jailbreakers at the soonest possible time,” he said.
Sueno also expressed grief over the death Vicedo.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one valiant comrade who offered his life in the fulfillment of his avowed duty. He and the other jail wardens on duty held on to their post amidst the havoc, the true mark of a public servant,” he said.
It was the third time that rebels raided the jail. On February 2, 2007, at least 50 members of a Muslim armed organized group staged an attack and rescued 49 inmates. It was followed on June 11, 2009 where a jail officer was killed.
WITH MOH SAADUDDIN AND JING VILLAMENTE