A suspected member of a kidnap-for-ransom group was killed in a fierce clash with government troops in the village of Panabutan in Sirawai town, Zamboanga del Norte Wednesday, as the military and local police pursued rescue operations for five abducted illegal loggers.
Senior Supt. Raul Tacaca, director of the Zamboanga del Norte Police, said the body of a suspected bandit was recovered at the encounter site but remains unidentified.
Also recovered from the site were a Garand rifle and a caliber. 45 pistol.
Tacaca said there were indications that the armed group was holding the five abducted illegal loggers in one of the secluded areas in Barangay Panabutan.
Responding to intelligence information, the military and local police launched a joint operation in a bid to safely rescue the captives.
But they were met with heavy gunfire as they approached the location of the armed men.
This resulted in a heavy exchange of gunfire, leaving one suspected bandit dead.
As of this writing, government forces were still pursuing the fleeing bandits with the help of air assets of the Philippine Air Force.
Meanwhile, more than a hundred families evacuated from their homes in the villages of Panabutan and Sipatic out of fear of being caught in the crossfire.
Sirawai Mayor Gamar Janihim said the affected families are housed in an evacuation center located in Barangay Poblacion.
Basic needs such as food and water were distributed to the affected families.
Janihim said they would wait for clearance from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) before allowing the displaced families to return to their homes.
The five illegal loggers were allegedly abducted by armed men led by Jamilon Wahab while travelling on foot towards the village of Panabutan, a known stronghold of the lawless group.
The group demanded an initial ransom of P10 million before reducing it to P15,000 for each of the captives.
The local government of Sirawai has reiterated the no ransom policy in dealing with kidnapping cases.