More than 150 inmates of a southern Philippine jail escaped in one of the largest jailbreaks in recent years after suspected Muslim rebels attacked before dawn at about 1am.
The attack added to a long history of daring jailbreaks in the strife-torn south, home to a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency as well as extremist gangs that have recently declared allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Jail warden Superintendent Peter Bongat said a guard was killed in a gunbattle when dozens of gunmen stormed the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan. The city is in Cotabato Province.
Bongat said, “It’s to rescue their comrades under our custody. It is a rescue operation.”
The two hour long gunbattle killed 5 inmates. Eight others of the escaped prisoners have been caught and were being returned to the facility. The jail held more than 1,500 inmates.
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.
“The jail guards fought the armed raiders but were overpowered by the sheer number of attackers,” Felix Capalla, one of the jail leaders 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.
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.
Bongat said that the attackers were suspected to include members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Freedom Fighters and guerrillas who broke away from the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has signed a peace deal with the government.
Capalla said, “They had their specific targets,” adding that the attackers first rescued Tamayan brothers and the Salik siblings, alleged members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
In Bongat’s opinion most of the escaped prisoners took the chances because of the volume of the fire, they used their bedding, piled them on top of each other to escape.
Local village leader Alexander Austria said that he and his men captured one escaped man. “We heard the gunfire and we sprang into action to guard our village,” adding, “we were afraid the escapees could try to enter our village to hide or take hostages.”