50 families forced to evacuate as gov’t. forces, bandit group clash in N. Cotabato town

MATALAM, North Cotabato — Some 50 families here were forced to evacuate after a firefight erupted Friday between authorities and a lawless armed group in two remote villages here.

The displaced families were from Sitio Imelda, Barangay Taguranao and adjacent Sitio Maligaya, Barangay Tamped, in this municipality.

Chief Insp. Sunny Leoncito, Matalam police chief, said joint elements of police’s elite Special Action Force and Public Safety Company, together with personnel from the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion were conducting a law enforcement operation against fugitives from the North Cotabato District Jail (NCDJ) who bolted out last Jan. 3 when met by resistance from an armed group in the border of the two villages.

According to Leoncito, some of the 50 armed men they encountered were fugitives of the NCDJ who joined the bandit group of Commander Derby operating in the area.

Derby himself was an escapee from the NCDJ in 2015.

Earlier this month, Derby’s group stormed the NCDJ in a bid to set free notorious cohorts in the penitentiary.

Although the armed group failed in their mission to set free their imprisoned comrades, 158 other inmates joined in the escape that was described as the biggest jailbreak so far in Philippine history.

Nearly a hundred escapees were recaptured in subsequent pursuit operations but over 60 others remain at- large.

Mayor Cheryl Catamco has temporarily suspended classes in Tamped and Taguranao, which included its neighboring villages of Sta. Maria, Kabulacan, and Ilian. John Andrew Tabugoc/PNA-northboundasia.com