QUEZON, Philippines – Police killed 13 suspected members of a criminal gang in a shootout on Sunday, January 6, the third violent incident within days amid widespread calls for stricter gun controls.
A ranking police officer was also wounded and taken to a hospital.
The battle erupted at 3 p.m. when gunmen in two vehicles tried to smash through a police checkpoint near the town of Atimonan, according to Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo, spokesman of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Ten firearms were recovered from the gang members, including an M16 assault rifle. The group is said to be engaged in a wide-range of illegal activities including robbery and illegal drugs.
Provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Val de Leon said the incident was a result of heightened police visibility
after they earlier received a tip that a Bicol-based criminal group was to pass by the area headed for Metro Manila.
This prompted police to seek military assistance and set up a checkpoint in Barangay Tanuan.
“The information we received came from a very reliable informer, and this is a big accomplishment,” de Leon said.
When authorities attempted to flag down the vehicles, they were fired upon by the suspects resulting to a gun fight.
De Leon said the army had also been told of the operation, and that some military personnel helped man the check point.
“We made sure that all escape routes are sealed,” de Leon said.
He said that as soon as troops and police flagged down the first vehicle, the gunmen aboard started shooting at them.
The initial burst of gunfire wounded Superintendent Hansel Manahan, the police officer in charge of the operation in the town 173 km (108 miles) southeast of Manila.
The incident occurred two days after a drug-crazed former village official went on a shooting rampage, killing seven people and wounding 12 others, some of whom have life-threatening injuries.
Rolando Bae was himself killed in a subsequent shootout with police.
Also last week two children aged 7 and 4 were killed by stray bullets fired during celebratory gunfire to welcome the New Year.
The incidents triggered public condemnation and calls for stricter controls on gun ownership, with official statistics estimating there are nearly 600,000 unlicensed guns across the Philippines.
Some 1.2 million licensed firearms were on the registry as of 2012.
Various civic groups as well as the influential Catholic church have called for a total ban on guns on the streets. President Benigno Aquino III – himself a gun aficionado – has yet to respond to the demand.
Other groups called for the return of capital punishment, which the government banned in 2006. – with Agence France-Presse