Guard killed and 158 prisoners freed as Muslim rebels storm jail

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More than 100 suspected Muslim insurgents stormed a jail today (Wednesday, January 4), killing a prison guard and freeing 158 prisoners.

Six inmates were reported killed in gun battles with pursuing police and army troops. Eight were caught and returned to North Cotabato District Jail, said Senior Inspector Xavier Solda, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesman.

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Jail warden Peter Bonggat said the attack began at about 1am with a power outage at the facility in Kidapawan City, followed by heavy gunfire aimed at the buildings inside the compound.

“It was not a jailbreak. It was a planned rescue of certain detainees,” he said. He added that other inmates fled, just to avoid the heavy gunfire. “They took chances because of the volume of fire. They used their bedding, piled them on top of each other to escape.”

Supt Bonggat named the killed prison guard as Hexel Rey Desibo. And said that the Mindanao jail had held more than 1,500 inmates before the attack.

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Initial reports suggested that the gunmen responsible for the jailbreak were linked to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Speaking at a press conferenece, police spokesman Dionardo Carlos said: “When the attack came, it was a two-hour firefight. The jail guards were trying to stop the attackers and then our police responded.

“Unfortunately, because of the commotion, some inmates escaped using a wooden ladder that they stuck to the wall at the back portion of the jail.”

Unconfirmed reports by Filipino officials suggested that the attack was led by Satar Mandalondong, a MILF commander.

At this point, the MILF group is yet to claim responsibility for the jailbreak.

Today’s incident was the latest of several mass escapes from poorly secured Philippine jails, with the incidents often involving southern rebels.

In August, another rebel group called Maute staged a jailbreak in the southern Philippines, freeing 23 detainees.

About 50 heavily armed members of the group raided the local jail in the southern city of Marawi on Mindanao island and freed eight of their members who were arrested a week earlier, police said.

In 2009 more than 100 armed men raided a jail in the strife-torn southern island of Basilan, freeing 31 prisoners including several guerrillas.

The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines and it is based in the southern region of Mindanao. The group demands more autonomy for the Moro people.

The conflict between the rebels and the state has left more than 120,000 people dead in the last four decades.

President Rodrigo Duterte is pursuing peace talks with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the MILF.

Smaller groups such as the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf group are not covered by the ceasefires and are not part of the peace process.

Police and military personnel continue to hunt for the fugitives.

*Cover photo showing the entrance to the jail comes courtesy of the BJMP Community Relations Service Office.

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