PIKIT, NORTH COTABATO — Local officials here debunked reports of a rub out involving a bloody encounter between security forces and lawless armed group in Barangay Gokotan last December 29 while policemen were serving an arrest warrant against a suspected criminal gang leader in the area.
Datu Turno Sultan, president of the town’s Association of Barangay Captains, said the encounter broke out after several armed men opened fire at a police convoy who were on their way to serve the arrest warrant against Joel Manampan, a wanted criminal who is facing string of murder cases.
Five suspects were killed while four policemen were injured during the firefight that lasted for about three hours. The slain suspects were identified as Muhien, Mantok, Asrap Masulot, Badrudin Malid, Bunta Kabunto and aArbaya Panisares.
Sultan, who lives in a nearby village, maintained that a gunfight ensued between the policemen and the armed group led by Manampan which fired at the arresting team tasked to effect the arrest of the wanted person.
“There was no rubout or massacre during the police operation but was an encounter,” Sultan told a news conference on Wednesday organized by the Cotabato Provincial Police Office at the provincial capitol in Kidapawan City.
Sultan made the statements amid allegations from the suspects’ families that the slain suspects were summarily executed.
PCol. Henry Villar, Cotabato police provincial director, clarified that the area was a haven of lawless elements involved in carnapping, gun-for-hire and illegal drug trade contrary to the claims of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that the area is an MILF-controlled territory.
He said the only recognized MILF camp in Nort Cotabato is Camp Rajamuda located in Barangay Rajamuda, Pikit.
Police seized several high-powered firearms including Minimi 5.56 Hertal machine gun, M-16 and M14 rifle, fragmentation grenade, rocket-propelled grenade launcher and components of Improvised Explosive Device.
Neil Joyce Liansing, provincial chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, said barangay Gokotan was considered illegal drug-infested village amid reports of illegal drug trafficking activities in the area involving Manampan and his cohorts.
He said Manampan had been listed by PDEA as a high-value target since 2017.
Security forces also recovered some 300 motorcycles at a warehouse owned by the family of Badrudin Malid.
PLt. Col. Ruben Ramos, provincial chief of the PNP-Highway Patrol Group, said some 20 recovered motorcycles were reported to have been carnapped after the owners showed up to the police provincial headquarters and brought pertinent documents which proved their ownership over the stolen vehicles.
Two motorcycle owners appeared during the news conference and alleged that their motorcycles were forcibly taken from them by gun-wielding suspects aboard a motorcycle in Kidapawan City and Tulunan town in 2019 and 2020.
Sultan said the local government of Pikit had conducted a verification to determine the authenticity of the business permits allegedly issued to Malid family to run a buy and sell trading of motorcycles in the area amid allegations by the slain suspect’s relatives that they are into legitimate trading of motorcycles.
He said the business licensing office of the municipal government is looking into reports that there were permits issued by the local government and the Department of Trade and Industry for the trading of the Malids in Barangay Gokotan anf Barangay Poblacion.