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Gunmen storm jail, free 158 prisoners

KIDAPAWAN CITY – Armed men in black suits and military uniforms raided the provincial jail just after midnight yesterday to free 158 inmates, including members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) facing murder charges.

Numbering more than a hundred, the attackers approached the facility on foot through a small creek, cut off power and shot dead the lone guard in front of the main entrance.

The guard was identified as Jail Officer 1 Excell Ray Vecido.

All of the escapees came from cells 6 and 7 reserved for high-risk inmates, including the Tamayan brothers, allegedly bomb experts of the BIFF, and Salik brothers who are facing drug trafficking charges.

No one has claimed responsibility for the jail breakout, the biggest in the province since 2000 when 40 inmates escaped.

Around 20 jail guards were easily overpowered by the raiders who believed to have fled via the same route – through the creek and into the river aboard pump boats.

Responding police and military units scoured the area near the provincial jail and recaptured 14 escapees whose identities were withheld while five of the fugitives were killed during the shootout.

The jail located behind the provincial capitol was built for 300 but houses 800 inmates in eight cells.

Felix Capalla, one of the leaders of the inmates, said he had tipped off jail warden Superintendent Peter John Bungat about the “rescue” attempt to happen between Dec. 31 and the first week of January.

“I gave him (Bungat) information that some of the inmates have told us to prepare for rescue and escape. This was last Dec. 31. I saw additional troops deployed in the area from Dec. 31 up to Jan. 1. But after that, I saw few people manning the jail, then came the attack,” said Capalla.

Capalla said loose security preparations and other safety lapses were among the reasons why the attackers were able to enter the jail’s premises.

“Last week, I saw some soldiers and policemen. But starting Jan. 2 until Wednesday, there were only few of them around,” he said.

Meanwhile, a village councilor was shot dead by government troops at the height of the pursuit operation.
Killed was Satar Manalondong, kagawad of Barangay Patadon, and a known supporter of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Manalondong was on his way to the barangay hall in Patadon aboard his motorcycle with two unidentified males, when operatives of the Special Action Forces (SAF) of the Cotabato Provincial Police Office (CPPO) and elements of the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, shot him dead.

Reports said responding government troops claimed two of Manalundong’s companions were among those who broke out of jail. The alleged fugitives managed to escape.

Manalondong’s wife denied allegations her husband was harboring escapees.

“Tutulong pa nga ‘yun para maibalik sa kulungan ang mga tumakas na preso, tapos, gano’n pa ang nangyari,” the wife lamented.

She also denied accusations that her husband was the Commander Derby of the BIFF that led the jail attack.

Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista directed city police director, Superintendent Leo Ajero, to investigate Manalondong’s death.

Evangelista also suspended classes in schools near the provincial jail while authorities hunt down the escapees.
(With report from Ali Macabalang) (MALU CADELINA MANAR)