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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 4 p.m.) Communist rebels made off with a substantial haul of firearms Monday evening (not Sunday as earlier reported) in a raid on the office of a security agency in Butuan City just meters away from the Caraga regional police office and the headquarters of the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade.
Superintendent Martin Gamba, spokesman of the Caraga regional police office, said up to 20 New People’s Army guerrillas stormed the office of the Earthsaver Security Agency in Barangay Libertad Sunday night and took around 30 weapons.
However, Front 4 of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao Command claimed to have carted away 66 weapons -- 46 AK-47 and three M-14 sniper rifles, 10 automatic shotguns and seven pistols -- from the security agency owned by retired police general Paul Nario.
A congratulator statement from the Communist Party of the Philippines mentioned 50 guns.
Personnel of the security agency said the 16 rebels who conducted the raid arrived around 8 p.m. in a pick-up and a van wearing black sweatshirts and caps with National Bureau of Investigation markings.
“We were staying outside the apartment building because of the brownout. The armed men who introduced themselves as NBI operatives showed us a warrant and then handcuffed us while they took all the firearms within just 10 minutes and destroyed the … room,” said Ronnie Royo, supervisor
of the security agency.
The rebels abandoned their vehicles after they fled, the pickup in Barangay Bonbon and the van in Barangay Amparo.
Butuan police chief Senior Superintendent Pedro Obaldo Jr. said they were looking at the possibility of an inside job.
“The apartment was actually rented not as an office space but to house the remaining security personnel and firearms of the security agency,” Obaldo said.
The agency, he said, used to deploy 175 security guards to a mining exploration firm operating in Datu Bulawanon in Agusan del Sur.
However, it terminated 125 guards after the mining firm’s permit expired in November last year.
“We can't rule out that this robbery was in fact an inside job since most of the fired security guards were former soldiers, policemen and might as well be connected to rebel groups,” he said.
Obaldo said they had already identified six suspects but declined to identify them.
He also said they might include Jorge Madlos, alias Ka Oris, of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, who confirmed the rebels’ responsibility for the raid in a phone interview with a local television outfit.
Madlos said the raid was to punish Nario for his refusal to pay the so-called “revolutionary tax” and for alleged abuses committed by the agency’s guards in the communities where they operated.
In its statement, the CPP urged other NPA units to "seize more and more firearms from the AFP, the PNP and their paramilitary groups and private armies, including special armed units posing as security agencies” so it could arm the "thousands upon thousands who wish to join the NPA or its auxiliary militias."