Military and police authorities here said outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were the culprits in the daring attack on the North Cotabato provincial jail facility in the early hours of Wednesday.
Supt. Peter John Bungat, provincial jail warden, said three of those "rescued" were members of the outlawed armed men involved in bombings in North Cotabato.
Many of those who fled were also facing charges of illegal drug pushing.
The three inmates of Cell No. 8, later known as Tamayan and Salic brothers, were the prime object of rescue, Bungat said.
Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, denied his group was involved but admitted some of those who fled belonged to the BIFF.
Only 21 jail officers are guarding 1,511 inmates on shifting basis. It was not clear how many guards were on duty during the attack.
Supt. Emmanuel Peralta, North Cotabato police director, said joint police and military operations are ongoing in the borders of Kidapawan City and the towns of Matalam and M'lang.
One jail officer was killed and an inmate was wounded.
Numbering about 100, the armed men first shot a power transformer that sent the jail facility in darkness. It was followed by a series of gunfire, according to Felix Capalla, one of the inmates' leaders.
Among those who fled were followers of big time drug lords Renz Tukuran and Mox Masgal, former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members engaged in illegal drugs in North Cotabato.
"It was not a jailbreak. It was a planned rescue of high profile detainees," he told reporters.
The jail facility, also known as the Cotabato District Jail, is located at the back of the provincial capitol compound in Barangay Amas in Kidapawan City.
Before the raid, Capalla told Bungat of what he heard among the inmates - a plot that they will be rescued on New Year's Eve. This led to the deployment of Army and police forces as augmentation force on December 31.
However, the reinforcement was recalled on January 1 when no attack happened on New Year's Eve.
A village official was killed by government forces when he was seen transporting two inmates in Matalam, North Cotabato.
Mayor Joseph Evangelista of Kidapawan City has ordered the suspension of classes in public schools in Barangay Amas to ensure safety of children during manhunt operations.
Source: Philippines News Agency