MANILA, Philippines – [UPDATE] At least 6 people (not 7 as earlier reported) were killed, including 2 children, after heavily-armed men attacked a coastal community in Lapuyan, Zamboanga del Sur on Wednesday, February 23.
Speaking to Rappler by phone from the site of the attack, Zamboanga del Sur police director Sr Supt Jose Bayani Gucela described the incident as “an act of retaliation.”
According to police reports, more or less 10 unidentified men carrying high-powered firearms that included “RPGs (Rocket Propeller Grenade) and M16 rifles” opened fire at residents of Sitio Bahing, Barangay Tininghalang around 4pm on Wednesday.
A military report earlier indicated at least 7 people were killed and hurt 3 others, with most of the casualties “were probably children.” It corrected its report, that there are only 6 fatalities and “more or less 20” others were injured.
Those killed in the attack were identified as Raquel Langhoy Morales, 25, Junie Banghulut, 55, Daylin Golpin, 29, Henrito Bayambang, 13, and 2-year old boy identified only as “Karl”. The 6th fatality was still unidentified as of posting time.
Based on initial police investigation, the attack in Sitio Bahing, which is a predinomantly Subanen community, was led by Ami and Pahad Andi, both are brothers of a suspected lawless group leader who was recently nuetralized by local authorities.
“Apparently, the gunmen suspected that the residents of the community as the ones who helped in the neutralization of Samang Andi,” Gucela said. “They retaliated by shooting indiscriminately at the victims.” Andi was killed in an encounter with government authorities last February 11.
Lapuyan medical officer Janet Macni, who conducted a post-mortem exam on the cadavers of the victims, told Rappler that most of the those killed sustained hack wounds in different parts of their bodies. She said the fingers of both hands of a woman who died “were all cut off,” while the children “were hacked in the head and stomach.”
“An old man, who was among those killed, was nearly beheaded due to the severe hack wounds in his neck,” Macni said.
Macni treated at least 7 other people for different injuries. 5 of them, including a 9-month old boy, were “in critical condition” and had to be rushed to a hospital in Pagadian City. The other wounded patients were admitted to a public hospital in the adjacent Margosatubig town.
Gucela said Samang Andi, a notorious lawless gang leader operating in the towns of Lapuyan and Margosatubig, has been a subject of police operation for his involvement in a string of criminal cases that included “extortion, piracy, kidnapping and murder.”
Macni said many residents of Lapuyan town “are very concerned” about their security, fearing that the attack could be recur. A number of families living in the site of the attack has temporarily sought shelter at the municipal gymnasium in the town center for fear that Wednesday’s incident could trigger more violence in their community.
A joint police and military manhunt operation has been launched to pursue the attackers, who fled the area on board their pump boats towards an unknown direction. Troops from the Army’s 53rd Infantry Battalion have been deployed to secure Lapuyan, to beef up the local police force. – Rappler.com