158 inmates escape North Cot jail; guard, kagawad killed

Local folks flee their homes in Barangay Patadon, Kidapawan City following pursuit operations against at least 100 armed men who raided the Cotabato Provincial Jail on Jsnuary 4, 2017, resulting in the esacpe of 158 inmates. Mindanews Photo

DAVAO  CITY (MindaNews/ 04 January) — At least 158 inmates at the North Cotabato District Jail in Amas escaped when at least a hundred armed men clad in black suits and military uniform stormed the jail at around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, killing a jail guard and later in the pursuit operations, a barangay kagawad allegedly mistaken to be the leader of the armed group, the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation’s Radyo Bida reported.

NCDJ provincial jail warden, Superintendent Peter John Bungat said 158 out of 1,511 inmates escaped, three of them re-captured during pursuit operations.The armed men first hit the power source and immediately went inside the facility, he said.

A press release from the Bureau of Jail Management National Headquarters issued at 7:15 a.m. said about a hundred inmates “took the opportunity to escape through the back portion of the facility while the rest of the personnel were retaliating to hold their ground and protect other inmates.”

The January 4 jail escape is the biggest jailbreak in North Cotabato since 2000, when more than 40 inmates, most of them considered high-risk, escaped from prison.

The NDBC Radyo Bida quoted Felix Capalla, one of the leaders of inmates at the NDJC as saying the attackers “rescued” detained members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), among them the Tamayan brothers who are both facing murder charges, and Salik brothers who are charged for drug trafficking.

It added that Capalla had tipped off Bungat, of the possible escape between December 31 and the first week of January.

“I gave him (Bungat) an 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,” NDBC Radyo Bida quoted Capalla as saying.

Capalla said the inmates prepared for the attack. He said many of the inmates who escaped “were the ones who destroyed their prison cells using iron grills and other hard objects they collected and stored since October last year.”

“But Bungat did not take my information seriously.  Bungat and his personnel just prepared from December 31 until January 1.  When nothing happened, they started pulling out from the facility,” he said.

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

Mistaken for leader

Killed during the jailbreak was Jail Officer 1Excell Ray Vicedo died during the firefight which the provincial police said lasted two hours.

In the pursuit operations, Star Manalundong, number 1 Kagawad (councilor) of Barangay Patadon, a known supporter of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was killed after he was allegedly mistaken for a leader of the armed men that stormed the jail.

Manalundong on his motorcyle and two others were on their way to the barangay hall in Patadon 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.

The NDBC Radyo Bida cited reports that government troops noted Mamalundong’s companions were among the fugitives they were pursuing since dawn. The two managed to flee but Mamalundong was hit in different parts of his body and died on the spot.

Manalundong’s wife denied the 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,” she said.

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

Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista directed city police director, Superintendent Leo Ajero, to investigate the killing of Mamalundong.

Evangelista also ordered the suspension of classes in schools near the jail. (MindaNews)