50 recaptured, over 100 still on the run in PH’s biggest jailbreak

Editha Z. Caduaya

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50 recaptured, over 100 still on the run in PH’s biggest jailbreak
(UPDATED) The BJMP says 13 high-value targets – 7 Muslim rebels and 6 organized crime gang members – were not among the 158 inmates who bolted a North Cotabato jail

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines (UPDATED) – Fifty inmates who escaped from the North Cotabato District Jail have been recaptured as of late Thursday afternoon, January 5, provincial police said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Superintendent Peter Bonggat, North Cotabato jail warden, told reporters at the jail grounds that there had been 39 recaptured inmates since the jailbreak on Wednesday, January 4.

A total of 158 inmates bolted the jail.

Of the 50 recaptured inmates, 8 were killed and 2 were wounded. All them were brought to the North Cotabato Provincial Hospital for checkup.

Some of them said they had gotten tired of running and hiding and so decided to surrender. Authorities caught up with them in Matalam, the town near the location of the provincial jail.

The inmates said they ran away because, during an exchange of gun fire, they heard somebody shouting that the facility would be set on fire.

During the press briefing earlier, Bonggat cited many obstacles in the manhunt. “This is a very wide area. Aside from sugar, rubber, and coconut plantations, there are areas and camps held by rebels that we cannot easily enter,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Sultan Kudarat Governor Pax Mangudadatu, who met with acting North Cotabato Governor Shirley Macasarte, told Rappler he would go around the different municipalities of his province to convince other local governments to turn over escapees monitored in their areas.

Later, the recaptured inmates said, Mangudadatu gave them P1,000 each as pocket money on their way back to jail.

Wednesday’s jailbreak was the biggest in the nation’s history, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) spokesman Xavier Solda told AFP.

He said 13 “high-value targets” – 7 Muslim rebels and 6 organized crime gang members – were not among those who escaped. 

BIFF plot?

During the media interview, Bonggat presented to reporters empty shells or mortars that the attackers used for the jailbreak. He blamed the incident on detained members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who allegedly tried – in vain – to free fellow inmates, the Gunsang brothers. 

Bonggat said the jail is located just 500 meters away from the camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The BIFF is a splinter group of the MILF.

“The purpose was to overrun the jail so that can rescue their members but they failed,” the jail warden said.

Mangudadatu said in an interview with Rappler on Thursday that he was not convinced that the BIFF was behind the jailbreak. He said the two Gunsang brothers were not influential enough to prod an operation of such scale.

MILF spokesman Von al-Haq also insisted Thursday that none of the group’s members were involved in the raid, adding the group was willing to coordinate with government to allow searches in its communities. 

“The commander named to be the leader of the raid was 100% a notorious criminal. He was never a member of the MILF,” Al-Haq told AFP. 

Al-Haq said the commander, known by an alias of Commander Derby, had broken into the jail to release a relative who was the leader of the Muslim inmates. 

Al-Haq said the relative and the leader of the Christian inmates were among the first to escape, and remained on the run.

In a statement on Thursday, the BJMP said it has not pinpointed those responsible for the incident. “The BJMP does not want to speculate on the identity of possible perpetrators who stormed the North Cotabato District Jail past midnight yesterday,” it said.

“Currently, the joint forces of BJMP, PNP, and AFP are still pursuing the escapees. All units of BJMP Region 12 including facilities in nearby provinces remain on heightened alert,” it said.

BJMP chief Serafin Barretto Jr, who was in Kidapawan to oversee the situation, told reporters that Bonggat will be “relieved for debriefing,” following the jailbreak that killed one jail guard.

Bonggat was installed as warden on September 16, 2016. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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