Updated 16:47 PM PHT Wed, January 4, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Authorities are in hot pursuit of over 150 inmates who escaped from the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan City early Wednesday morning following an armed assault of the prison.
Acting Provincial Jail Warden Supt. Peter John Bongngat Jr. told CNN Philippines New Day that some 100 members of a supposed breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked the facility at around 1:15 a.m.
"Allegedly this a group of Kumander Derby, breakaway group of the MILF," Bongngat said. "Mga more or less 100 ito because of the volume of fire na narinig namin kanina. Fire was coming from all all sides, except itong front, kung saan yung office namin, tsaka yung main guardhouse po namin."
[Translation: There were more or less 100 of them because of the volume of fire we heard earlier. Fire was coming from all sides, expect from the front, where our office is, and our main guardhouse.]
One BJMP officer was killed during the firefight and one inmate hit by a stray bullet. In a press statement, the BJMP said identified the jail officer as Excell Ray Vicedo.
"Yung unang tinarget po nila is yung tower post po natin," Bungat said. "Ayun nga, na-hit po yung isang kasamahan po natin. Tamang-tama, pagbaba nila from the tower post, 'yun po yung sinabayan po ng mga inmates na mag-setup ng inakyatan nila dun sa likod using yung bed bags po nila and yung mga kumot po."
[Translation: Their first target was our tower post, where one of our comrades was hit. When they were heading down from the tower post, this inmates used this opportunity to set up their escape at the rear using their bed bags and blankets.]
Bongngat also said some of the escapees were comrades of the armed group.
"Mostly po mga Muslim brothers po natin ito and most of them are mga members po nila," he said. "Pero yung iba, sumabay na lang po siguro."
[Translation: They are mostly our Muslim brothers and most of them are their members. But the others likely just went along with the jailbreak.]
5 inmates dead, 7 in custody
Clearing and pursuit operations are ongoing.
"Presently, there's an ongoing clearing operation by the Special Action Force and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, together with the BJMP Special Tactics and Response Team within the jail vicinity and the surrounding area," the BJMP said in a statement.
"All BJMP units in Region 12 and nearby provinces remain on heightened alert," the agency added.
BJMP Spokesperson Senior Jail Inspector Xavier Solda told CNN Philippines Balitaan on Wednesday afternoon that 12 of the 158 escaped convicts have been accounted for.
"During the recovery operation, may limang inmate po na nasawi matapos po silang manlaban," Solda said. "Lima po na-recover and then yung dalawa sumuko po sa Mayor, kaya naibalik na po sa facility namin."
[Translation: During the recovery operation, five inmates were killed after they fought back against authorities. Five inmates were recovered and then two surrendered to the Mayor, so they were returned to our facility.]
Aside from the inmates, Barangay Kagawad Satar Manalundong was also killed during the pursuit operations.
In a statement, the PNP said one of the inmates, drug convict Jason Angkanan, was arrested by barangay authorities at 2 a.m. Wednesday before being turned over to the Philippine Army.
Angkanan told authorities that when he went to sleep Tuesday night, he noticed that their cells were not yet padlocked. At about 1 a.m., he was awakened by several gun shots.
"And then he heard some of the inmates shouting that they should go out from the Custodial Facility Building because the attackers will burn it,' the PNP said. "He further disclosed that when he was already out of the building, he saw that some of the inmates were climbing the wooden ladder, which [was] utilized as their escape route."
BIFF, MILF deny involvement
But the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the MILF denied their involvement in the siege.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama said Wednesday that he does not know Kumander Derby who is not in their roster. Mama insisted his group would confirm their involvement in any attack.
Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force-MILF spokesman Von Al-haq also said they do not know Derby, allegedly a former member of the group. He said MILF forces, especially in possible exit routes of the escapees, are already alerted to help the government arrest the inmates.
North Cotabato Acting Provincial Governor Sherlyn Macasarte said the attackers belong to the the BIFF. She added that prior to the siege, authorities were informed there would be an attack to rescue two members of the armed group who specialize in making improvised explosive devices.
Solda said they are still confirming the real motive of the attack.
Prepared in advance
Bongngat said authorities were warned in December 2016 that a group would attack the prison on New Year's day.
"We were given intelligence reports last Dec. 30, that's why we had a conference with the Provincial Director of the PNP (Philippine National Police) North Cotabato and together with the Battalion Commander of the Philippine Army," he said.
"We were prepared because we were then expecting that they will attack us on the evening of New Year," Bongngat added. "So all security personnel from the PNP, the BJMP and the Philippine Army were readily prepared for that eventuality."
Stringers Abner Francisco and Erwin Cabilbigan contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Please refresh the page for updates.