Police and military authorities have launched a continuing manhunt operation against other members of a carnapping syndicate-cum-private armed group following an encounter here that left five persons dead and five others injured, police reported Thursday.
In a statement, Lt. Col. Maria Joyce Birrey, spokesperson of the Police Regional Office in Soccsksargen (Region 12), said a joint Army and police operation is ongoing in North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces after the remaining members of the syndicate fled during the pre-dawn raid Wednesday on a suspected warehouse of carnapped vehicles.
“The police operation is ongoing,” she said. Five armed men were killed while five others, including three police officers, were injured during a clash in Barangay Gukotan, Pikit, North Cotabato.
In a separate statement Thursday, Brig. Gen. Alexander Tagum, the PRO-12 director, said policemen, backed by soldiers, were to verify reports of carnapped vehicles kept in a compound run by a syndicate in Barangay Gukotan when they were fired upon, triggering an hour-long firefight.
“As the team arrived in the village, they were fired at by unidentified gunmen using high-powered firearms,” he said.
With the help of village officials, the police identified the fatalities as Badrudin Masulot Dalid, Arbaya Dalid Panizares (female), Asraf Dalid Masulot, Bunta Kabantu, and a still unidentified male who all died from multiple gunshot wounds.
Following the firefight, the joint police-Army team found more than 440 assorted motorcycles, two M60 machineguns, anti-tank rocket B-40 launchers, an M14 rifle, an M203 rifle fitted with a grenade launcher, three M16 rifles, a vintage .30 caliber Carbine rifle, two .38 caliber revolvers, and bomb-making components.
The injured police officers were immediately rushed to the hospital in the town proper here.
Police Muhidin Dalaganon Mantok, one of the gunmen, voluntarily surrendered to authorities.
A resident who asked not to be named told reporters that the compound which has a tennis court and a basketball court was owned by a legitimate pawn shop businessperson.
The motorcycles, including firearms, were pawned to the shop, he said, explaining why there was a huge number of motorcycles and vehicles in the area.
But Birrey said an investigation is still going on the report if it was a warehouse for pawned vehicles.
“The presence of high-powered firearms make the area a suspected lair of a lawless group,” she said in the vernacular.
All firearms seized during the raid were unlicensed. Barangay Gukotan is about 20 kilometers south of the town proper.