Updated 13:24 PM PHT Thu, January 5, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The warden of the North Cotabato jail that was attacked early Wednesday morning said most of the 13 high-risk inmates who escaped are members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Acting Jail Warden Supt. Peter Bongngat Jr. told CNN Philippines New Day on Thursday the assault on the North Cotabato District Jail was a rescue operation by lawless elements, although he was not sure which group was behind it.
"Most of these 13 escapees are members of the MILF," Bongngat said. "This incident is not jailbreak, but a rescue operation perpetrated by lawless elements. Our PNP (Philippine National Police) did not yet give us kung sino po yung grupo na nag-initiate talaga nung attack [which group really initiated the attack]."
Bongngat also said the 13 inmates are involved in cases of murder, frustrated murder and illegal possession of explosives.
However, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology Spokesperson Jail Senior Insp. Xavier Solda told CNN Philippines Newsroom on Thursday the 13 high-risk inmates never escaped.
BJMP Spokesman Jail Senior Insp. Xavier Solda gives updates on pursuit operations following the North Cotabato jailbreak pic.twitter.com/MuSm0XGyDm— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) January 5, 2017
"Actually, we have 13 in the facility," Solda said. "During my conversation with the OIC (officer-in-charge) warden, those 13 inmates were still in the facilities. Those armed groups who attacked us failed to rescue these inmates."
Solda also said seven of the high-risk inmates are members of the MILF, while the remaining six were part of organized groups.
He believes the 13 inmates were the targets.
Bongngat earlier said over 100 members of Commander Derby — who heads an alleged breakaway group of the MILF — attacked the jail.
Meanwhile, North Cotabato Acting Provincial Governor Sherlyn Macasarte said Wednesday that the attackers belong to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
She added prior to the assault, authorities had been informed there would be an attack to rescue two members of the armed group who specialize in making improvised explosive devices.
Bongngat said they were prepared for the attack, which was expected on New Year's day, but were up against heavy firepower.
"Di naman talaga natin mapipigilan yung atake," Bongngat said. "Naka-prepare naman po kami. Umatake nga sila, but they were not able to enter the facility. We were able to defend the jail station, despite kokonti yung mga tao namin, kokonti yung armaments namin, as against the overwhelming enemy force."
[Translation: We could not really prevent the attack. We were prepared for it. They attacked, but they were not able to enter the facility. We were able to defend the jail station, despite having few people and weapons, as against the overwhelming enemy force.]
BIFF, MILF deny involvement
Both the BIFF and the MILF denied their involvement in the assault.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama said he does not know Commander 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 who Derby is, allegedly a former member of the group.
He said MILF forces, especially in possible exit routes of the escapees, have been alerted to help the government arrest the inmates.
At least half will be apprehended
Bongngat said pursuit operations are ongoing.
"We are very optimistic that we could be able to return back more than 50 percent of those escapees," he said.
The warden also said local chief executives and barangay officials are helping in recovery efforts.
In a press statement, the BJMP said 34 escapees have been accounted for as of 10:20 a.m. Thursday. Among the 34, five inmates were killed for allegedly fighting back against authorities.
The agency also said pursuit operations are ongoing and that it does not wish to speculate on the perpetrators of the assault.