The Philippine military sharply criticized prison officials yesterday over the escape of seven senior communist rebels, saying their breakout in a raid by their comrades had wasted years of effort and resources to put them behind bars.
In a rare public expression of anger, the military urged government officials to take decisive steps to punish those responsible for Saturday’s escape of the seven ranking New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas from Quezon provincial prison.
About 30 communist guerrillas, disguised as anti-narcotics agents and SWAT commandos, talked their way into the poorly guarded prison compound, saying they were to take custody of some of the inmates.
They then overwhelmed the guards on duty, Quezon police chief Fidel Posadas said.
Some of those freed were senior guerrilla commanders captured by the army in recent months. The raiders locked up prison guards in a cell before fleeing in four vans. The attack lasted just 15 minutes and without a shot being fired, Posadas said.
“The incident laid to waste years of careful planning, perilous operations and resources in capturing top NPA leaders in Quezon,” the military said in a statement. “We expect that decisive actions will be undertaken to punish those who are liable and put an end to these recurring incidents.”
The raid happened despite prior warnings to local jail authorities of a possible escape attempt, and the military said the freeing of the rebels made the government’s counterinsurgency campaign in the region “more difficult.”
About half the prison’s 50 guards and the deputy warden were in Manila for a seminar, considerably weakening the jail’s defenses at the time of the attack, Posadas said. The warden, his deputy and at least 14 prison guards have already been fired by local officials for security lapses in the jail, about 110km southeast of Manila, he said.
The 5,000-strong Maoist rebels have been waging a rebellion in the country’s rural regions for nearly 40 years. They have escalated their attacks against government forces in recent months to gain badly needed weapons, the military says.
Norwegian-brokered peace talks stalled in 2004 after the rebels accused the government of instigating their inclusion in US and European terrorist blacklists.