Sunday, January 9, 2022

Police intensify ops vs. lawless groups in North Cotabato

Police Region 12 Director Brig. Gen. Alexander Tagum gestures while speaking to the members of the MILF-GRP Ad Hoc Joint Action Group as 602nd Infatry Brigade commander Col. Jovencio Gonzales (2nd from left) and Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan (3rd from left) look on. (Police handout: Mark Navales / Mindanao Examiner) 

NORTH COTABATO – Police intensified the operation against lawless groups and at the same time called on civilians to report the presence of criminals in their areas following a recent firefight between security forces and gunmen in North Cotabato’s Pikit town that left five people dead and four cops wounded. 

Brig. Gen. Alexander Tagum, the regional police chief, said they have intensified operations against lawless groups and criminals, especially those wanted by the law in an effort to protect innocent civilians from violence.

 

“Our unwavering commitment and dedication to duty is a manifestation that we are serious in eliminating all forms of criminality and illegal activities in our community. May this serve as a warning to all law offenders, as they will not be tolerated, and will face the charges that they deserve,” he said.

 

Tagum said the regional police force has also intensified the implementation of Oplan (Operational Plan): Iron Clad Region XII, which aims to deter the occurrence of crimes and ensure the safety

 

“In following the law, no one is excused and must therefore obey them especially when it concerns life and property. Once you violate, accept the consequence you have to face,” he said.

 

Police and soldiers clashed with gunmen on December 29 after security forces tried to serve a warrant to arrest Joel Manampan alias Maula Manampan, who is allegedly wanted for various crimes and has a P175,000 bounty on his head.


 

Manampan managed to escape arrest and is being hunted by security forces. The suspect was involved in illegal possession of firearms and explosives, carnapping, gun-for-hire and proliferation of illegal drugs in Pikit and nearby towns, according to the police, but one gunman was captured in the clash.


 

During the operation, security forces seized assorted weapons and over 400 motorcycles in a makeshift warehouse. The motorcycles were believed stolen after over a dozen owners came forward to claim their motorcycles.

 

Tagum has questioned village officials whether they were aware of Manampan’s presence in the village and his involvement in illegal activities aside from being wanted by the police.

 

“Relationship between government and community is essential and the cooperation of the community is needed to facilitate the apprehension of criminals, especially if they are in the wanted list. Do not be afraid to cooperate with the police and we want to ensure that your security is protected,” he said. 


North Cotabato Police Provincial Director Col Henry Villar responds to questions from reporters during a news conference in Kidapawan City on Wednesday, December 5, 2022. The conference is also attended by Datu Turno Sultan, president of the town’s Association of Barangay Captains (right) and Lt. Col. Ruben Ramos, provincial chief of the PNP-Highway Patrol Group (2nd right). (Image: Mark Navales / Mindanao Examiner)

Datu Turno Sultan, Sr., President of the Association of Barangay Captains in Pikit town, also told journalists during a news conference on January 5 that gunmen opened fire on security forces as soon as soldiers and policemen arrived in the village of Gokotan to arrest Manampan. The attack sparked a gun fight that lasted three hours.
 

The former rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front has suddenly questioned the law enforcement operation, claiming security forces should have coordinated with MILF leaders because the area is considered as their “territory.” 


It was unclear whether the MILF is protecting Manampan or if he is a member of the group. Civilians in North Cotabato have thrown their strong support at the police and military forces in their campaign against crimes.


Col. Henry Villar, the provincial police director, flatly rejected the MILF claims and said the area where Manampan operated is a haven of lawless elements involved in carnapping, gun-for-hire and illegal drug trade.


Villar said the only recognized MILF camp in North Cotabato is Camp Rajamuda located in the village of Rajamuda in Pikit as agreed upon by the government and stipulated in the 2014 peace deal.


“Our target based on two warrants of arrest and listed as Most Wanted Person-National Level with reward amounting to P175,000 covered by DILG Memorandum Circulars dated June 11, 2021 is criminal gang leader Joel Manampan alias Maula Manampan. Satar Kabunto alias Expander was the one who fired at us first even though we used a police marked vehicle and Joel Manampan, the subject person of the warrant of arrest, who was able to escape from the operating troops,” Villar said.


Lt. Col. Ruben Ramos, Chief of the Philippine National Highway Patrol Group in North Cotabato, said at least 20 motorcycle owners came to the police headquarters to claim their motorcycles. “Some 20 motorcycles from the 400 recovered in Pikit had been reported carnapped after the owners showed up to the police provincial headquarters and brought pertinent documents which proved their ownership over the stolen vehicles,” he said.


Two motorcycle owners also appeared during the news conference and claimed that their motorcycles were forcibly taken from them by motorcycle gunmen in Kidapawan City and Tulunan town in 2019 and 2020. 


“Galing ako sa South Cotabato at papunta ng Roxas going to Tulunan, huminto ako para uminom lang sana ng tubig ng may huminto at likuran ko at tinutukan ako at sinabihan ako na relax lang, at nakita ko sa aking unahan na may bumaba rin at nakita ko na may dala rin itong baril at tuluyan ng tinangay ang motor ko,” one of the victims told journalists.


Police were still tracking down the owners of the other motorcycles as investigators prepared charges against those involved in the carnapping and people who sell or buy stolen motorcycles. (Mark Navales)



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