Police, guards, inmates warned on Cotabato attack, jailbreak
KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato – The inmates at the North Cotabato District Jail appeared to have been sleeping on Tuesday night. They were not.
They were anticipating a big thing to happen, said Felix Capalla, one of the jail leaders.
At about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the jail was suddenly plunged into darkness, and explosions followed. Then shots from automatic firearms rang, Capalla recounted.
The guards were shouting and firing their weapons from their stations too, he said.
A big number of armed men had just arrived and they were getting past the guards, Capalla said.
“The jail guards fought the armed raiders but were overpowered by the sheer number of attackers,” he said, adding that there were about 20 jail guards, mainly armed with pistols and Armalite rifles, who were on duty at the time of the raid.
Soon after, dozens of armed men – wearing black uniforms and armed with such high-powered weaponry as Barret 50-caliber sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers – barged in and opened cells numbered 6 and 7, where high-profile inmates such as those accused of involvement in bomb attacks in the province and other parts of Central Mindanao were being locked in.
“They had their specific targets,” Capalla said, adding that the attackers first rescued the Tamayan brothers and the Salik siblings, alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
They then opened other cells and freed more inmates.
“They destroyed the cells’ padlocks,” Capalla said.
A total of 158 inmates fled in the cover of darkness, according to Supt. Peter Bongngat, the jail warden.
Capalla said the raiders and the escapees used the jail compound’s back portion in fleeing.
Bongngat said five inmates had been killed in the subsequent operation while three others had been recaptured.
The slain escapees were Joey Aranas, Allan Tolentino, Edfel Lescano, Rapacon Amboludto Dimawan and Adonis Cedeño. Those recaptured were Jason Angkunan, Wennie Rota Koremo, Faisal Tiburon, Joselito Tomines and Jerome Oguit. Those who voluntarily surrendered were Richel Vales Flores, Joreste Robles Perdido and Ruta Coremo.
A civilian was also killed. He was identified as Satar Manalundong, a councilman of Barangay Patadon, also in Kidapawan City. He was allegedly shot by policemen who mistook him for an escapee.
“I lost one guard,” Bongngat said, identifying the slain guard as JO1 Excell Ray Vicedo.
Vicedo was manning the gates of the jail facility operated by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), when the attackers – led by Esmael Nasser alias Commander Derbi arrived. He was immediately shot dead.
Derbi was once an escapee from the same facility, where he had been locked up on bombing charges and the killing of Kabacan town vice mayor Policarpio Dulay in 2013. He and two other suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters bolted jail in August 2016.
Bongngat said Derbi and his men switched off the power to the entire facility while engaging other guards in a firefight.
Alexander Austria, chairman of Barangay Amas, the jail’s location, said the firefight between Derbi’s group and the guards lasted for at least 20 minutes.
He confirmed the series of explosions that took place at the height of the attack.
Austria said soldiers and policemen later responded and also engaged the fleeing attackers in firefight.
Capalla said prior to the attack, the 1,511 inmates of the 750-capacity jail facility were already talking about an impending rescue operation.
“I started hearing the plot before New Year’s Day. Words have been spreading that inmates of Cell No. 8 will be rescued. But prior to that, some inmates also told us to be ready (for the rescue),” Capalla said.
He said he personally informed Bongngat about the planned attack.
Capalla said Bongngat immediately asked for reinforcement and policemen were deployed at the jail facility.
But on January 2, he said the policemen disappeared and only BJMP personnel were left to secure the jail.
“It was well planned,” Bongngat said.
Wednesday’s raid at the district jail was not the first.
On February 3, 2007, an armed group also stormed the same facility and freed 49 inmates, most of them high-profile criminals.
In June 2009, a jail guard was also killed while three others were wounded when armed men tried but failed to rescue 12 suspected bombers and kidnappers detained at the same facility.
Authorities said as in the previous attacks, the BIFF or Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gunmen were most likely involved.
Both the BIFF and the MILF, which has signed a peace deal with the government, denied suspicions their members were behind the raid.
Abu Misri Mama, the BIFF spokesperson, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that they had no interest in attacking the prison facility even if several of their members were being detained there.
“We have other priority targets. And if ever we do conduct operations we would never deny responsibility,” Mama said by phone.
He said there were other inmates at the jail, who belonged to other armed groups and authorities should consider them as suspects too.
“There are many inmates in that jail who are involved in different activities and groups. We can not conclude yet. But if we can get any information, we would share it to the public,” Mama said.
Ghadzali Jaafar, the MILF political affairs vice chair, said he was sure that none of their members was involved in the raid.
Jaafar said the MILF “was a not fool to conduct such atrocity while talking peace with the government.”
“They (authorities) should perhaps look into the possible involvement of groups other than the MILF,” he said.
Supt. Leo Ajero, the Kidapawan City police chief, said pursuit operation was still ongoing as of Wednesday, and that the Army has deployed more troops.
Mayor Joseph Evangelista said he ordered the suspension of classes in all levels in Barangay Amas until after authorities declared it was already safe for students to go back to school. (With reports from Carlo Agamon and Williamor Magbanua with reports from Edwin Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem and Karlos Manlupig, INQ) SFM
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