NPA raids Malaybalay city jail

By 5:50 p.m., Mayor Florencio T. Flores Jr. declared the area had been cleared and that there was no need to evacuate residents.

Police and military officials blamed the attack on the New People's Army.

The attackers snatched three Armalite M16 rifles from the guards of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and three short firearms from local police. The pistols taken were identified as a 9mm Berreta, a caliber .38 Armscor revolver, and a caliber .43 Norinco handgun.

The jail's base and handheld radios and the police's handheld radio attached to the mobile was also carted away. Also taken were six M16 magazines full of ammunition.

PO3 Ronnel Diez was hit in his left chest and arm. Another person, identified as jail laborer Junmark Prandas, was also wounded in the attack.

Beñas said Diez was with a police team who were in the jail to turn over some detainees from the police lockup jail in downtown Malaybalay.

Initial police accounts said the armed men drove in three vehicles, two Multicabs and a forward closed van type vehicle. Five persons, including three women, rode in the first Multicab and reportedly posed as jail visitors.

But when attended by the guards they then declared they were from the NPA and fired at the building as some members were entering the jail and took the firearms.

The incident took about 30 minutes, according to the police incident report obtained by MindaNews on January 22.

When police reinforcement was sent and troops of the Philippine Army drove to the jail, the attackers withdrew in two groups — one towards southeast and another towards the eastern part of the hinterlands behind the jail.

Col. Danny Pabunan, deputy commander of the Army's 403rd Infantry Brigade, said the rebels aborted their operation when the police and military forces came.

He said they are conducting pursuit operations as of press time.

The jail warden is still mum on the incident.

Beñas stressed the motive was firearm snatching and ruled out a report that the rebels meant to grab an inmate.

He said after carting away the firearms, half of the armed men "withdrew to the mountainous area behind the jail" and another eastward behind the Carmelite monastery in a property close to the jail.

He said the attackers were heavily armed themselves, carrying M16 rifles and machines guns.

Pabunan said the Army prevailed in an encounter that ensured between his troops and the rebels' blocking force in Sitio Pal-eng near the Carmelite monastery.

Reports said the attackers planted land mines on the road to the jail from the Sayre Highway, but Pabunan dismissed it as probably "leftover firecrackers" or misplaced landmines. "It did not cause us damage," he said.

Flores has assured residents the area is back to safety even if he said he is likely to call for an emergency meeting of the city's peace and o
rder council.

Just the night before, two persons were shot dead near a lotto betting station about 120 meters away from the gate of the Army's Camp Osito Bahian. The victims were identified as Bueno Samson, 50, a retired policeman who served as bodyguard of the late Rep. Reginaldo Tilanduca, and a man identified as Roger Odilon Santos, 42. The motives of the killings are still unknown.

The jail attack spawned panic in downtown Malaybalay around 4:15 p.m. when police received a report about the attack from residents in Patpat village who had heard of a gunfight near the jail.

Schoolchildren and passersby near the police station were advised to go home and clear the roads as rumors spread that half of the attackers were moving towards downtown area in a bus they had taken over.

Patpat is around seven kilometers from downtown Malaybalay.

But as of 5:50 p.m., the mayor, who rushed to the the jail, spoke over radio station DXDB confirming that police and military personnel had cleared the area and that there was no need to evacuate residents near the penitentiary compound.

"The military and the police are here to plan out next steps. They will stay here," Flores said, assuring order was restored but lamenting that such things could happen to a peaceful city.

The attackers were already retreating when police arrived at the jail, he said.

There is no plan, he said, to relocate the city jail since it is already in an isolated area from population. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)