At least three police personnel were among 13 suspected criminals who were gunned down in a shootout with Philippine security forces at a highway checkpoint, officials said yesterday.
Gunmen riding in three black SUVs opened fire on more than 50 army and police troopers who flagged down the vehicles late on Sunday in the coastal town of Atimonan in Quezon province, about 140km southeast of Manila. Eleven suspects died on the spot, including a police colonel who was a regional commander and two other officers, police spokesman Erwin Obal said.
Authorities were checking the identities of two other victims on suspicion they were either former or current members of the intelligence service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Obal said.
Two gunmen jumped out of one of the cars and fired from a roadside canal, said Lieutenant Colonel Monico Abang, who led an army platoon in the clash.
The rest stayed in two vehicles, which troops raked with gunfire on a sparsely populated stretch of the highway.
More gunmen fired from a third vehicle, which turned around and fled, Abang said.
Authorities did not say how many suspects were believed to have escaped.
Security personnel sometimes collude with criminal syndicates to rob banks or traffic narcotics in an underworld that often includes corrupt politicians.
Abang said an initial investigation showed that the gunmen were likely members of a gun-for-hire group operating in provinces south of Manila.
“They rolled down their windows and started firing, so we had to retaliate,” Abang said by mobile phone from the scene of the clash. “They were clearly outnumbered and outgunned.”
On the side of the security forces, a police colonel was shot in the hand and foot and taken to a hospital.
Abang said the army and police had set up the checkpoint after an informant told police that gunmen involved in illegal drugs, gambling and kidnapping for ransom would pass through Atimonan in mountainous Quezon, where communist guerrillas have a presence.
The latest violence followed two other deadly shootings that have revived calls for tighter gun control in the Philippines, where there are more than half a million unlicensed firearms, according to police estimates.