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Esperon, other officials say Davao prison warned of NPA raid

by Pesante-USA Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2007 at 5:15 PM
magsasakapil@hotmail.com 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Officers of the Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte had been warned of a possible assault by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, Armed forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and other security officials disclosed yesterday. This came after media sources reported that an NPA band led by Mindanao Regional Guerrilla Unit-Pulang Bagani Command commander Leonardo Pitao ransacked the armory of the penal farm and took over 100 guns in a pre-dawn raid on Easter Sunday. The guerrillas carted away 50 M-16 and carbine rifles, 46 shotguns and seven pistols from the prison armory after disarming four guards, police said. They did not attempt to free any of the about 4,000 convicted criminals detained in the prison complex during the 20-minute raid that was staged without a shot being fired, police said, adding there were no injuries.

Esperon, other officials say Davao prison warned of NPA raid

By Jaime Laude and Edith Regalado

The Philippine Star 04/10/2007

Manila-- Officers of the Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte had been warned of a possible assault by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, Armed forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and other security officials disclosed yesterday.

This came after media sources reported that an NPA band led by Mindanao Regional Guerrilla Unit-Pulang Bagani Command commander Leonardo Pitao ransacked the armory of the penal farm and took over 100 guns in a pre-dawn raid on Easter Sunday.

The guerrillas carted away 50 M-16 and carbine rifles, 46 shotguns and seven pistols from the prison armory after disarming four guards, police said.

They did not attempt to free any of the about 4,000 convicted criminals detained in the prison complex during the 20-minute raid that was staged without a shot being fired, police said, adding there were no injuries.

Esperon called for an investigation of security lapses that allowed the rebels to attack, saying local authorities had learned that the rebels purchased military uniforms and were bracing for an unspecified raid before the prison attack took place.

Belated police reports

"What we know is there have been purchases of uniforms, so we have standard operating procedures on this (relaying information to other security units). But definitely there were some lapses," Esperon told reporters.

Chief Superintendent Andres Caro, Southern Mindanao regional police chief, said Davao penal farm officials were likewise warned following a recent jailbreak in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato.

"We have warned them before of the need to beef up security after what happened in Kidapawan. We have told them that NPA rebels might do the same thing to the penal farm," Caro said.

Caro told The STAR that police intelligence personnel last month again visited the penal colony and conferred with officials about the reported purchase in the capital town of Tagum City by unidentified men of 28 sets of military camouflage uniforms and combat boots.

"We have been telling them about the military uniforms that were purchased which indicated a possible activity by the rebels. And true enough, these were used by the rebels who even had Task Force Davao patches on their camouflage uniforms," Caro said.

Esperon said the intelligence information was relayed to other government security agencies but he wasn’t sure if the information reached the Davao penal farm.

Esperom Domwplays NPA raid

He also downplayed the raid. "Most of the shotguns and carbines are defective. Nevertheless the M-16s definitely could still be used."

Esperon also urged government agencies and security forces to make better arrangements such as sharing intelligence information and passing warnings to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana likewise said intelligence reports on the activities of the rebels have been shared with the jail officials.

"There was enough warning for them to check and improve on the security measures in place within the prison farm," Obaniana said.

PNP and AFP admits security lapses

Both Caro and Obaniana said there could have been lax security at the prison facility, which houses more than 4,000 inmates.

On board five rented passenger vans, the rebels were disguised as military personnel. They drove to the penal farm pretending to have engine trouble with one of their vehicles.

Obaniana and Caro also wondered how come the entry of the five vehicles into the prison farm, including the loading of the more than 100 rifles, was unnoticed by security personnel considering that it happened at an unusual hour.

The prison reportedly has 164 guards but four were on duty at the main gate along the highway and another two at the armory, located about 200 meters inside, during the raid.

Caro likewise lamented the delay in the request from prison farm officials last Sunday for police assistance.

"The incident happened at 1:30 a.m. and our police only received the call for assistance at around 3:40 a.m. There was already a very big gap in the time if indeed the other security personnel who were supposed to be on duty at that time were really on duty and were not sleeping," Caro said.

Obaniana said elements of the Scout Ranger unit in the area as well as those of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion have conducted massive pursuit operations against the rebels together with personnel of the police Regional Mobile Group.

The rebels were reported to have been holed up in the vicinity of barangay Paquibato. "Our operation is ongoing. They have been sighted in the place," Caro said.

Caro dismissed reports the NPA rebels intended to free the inmates at the penal farm in the Easter Sunday raid.

"No, they did not intend to free any inmate. There is no political detainee there. And if they get the prisoners, it would just be an added burden to them. The rebels just want to show that they are active," Caro said.

Obaniana said the communist rebels raided the armory of the prison farm purposely to show force.

"They have to show that they are still a force to reckon with. Right now, they are scrounging for resources. So, they need to show that they are strong," Obaniana added.

Meanwhile, new Davao penal farm chief Venancio Tesoro immediately assumed office after Catalino Malinao was relieved.

Tesoro met with Caro yesterday morning regarding the armory raid. – With AP

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