Philippines: Five Dead In Shooting Rampage Inside Army Camp
By Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel
A soldier ran amok inside an army camp in the southern Philippines on Saturday, killing four fellow soldiers and wounding another, the military said.
The suspect, identified as Private Johmar Villabito, of the Army’s Service Support Battalion (SSBn), was himself killed in a shootout when two soldiers tried to subdue him.
An investigation has been launched to determine what triggered the deadly rampage in Cagayan de Oro city, the military said. There were initial fears – later dismissed – that state enemies were behind the attack, because Islamic State-linked militants as well as communist insurgents are known to operate in areas in the south.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is saddened by the unfortunate incident that transpired early this morning inside the headquarters of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Camp Evangelista, Cagayan de Oro, which resulted in the death of five soldiers,” the military said in a statement.
Military investigators have been asked “to conduct a thorough investigation and implement measures that will prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in the future,” it said.
The suspect, Villabito, went inside the quarters where soldiers were sleeping shortly after 1:00 a.m. and shot four of them using his M-16 armalite rifle, regional military spokesman Maj. Francisco Garillo Jr. told reporters.
The slain soldiers were identified as Sgt. Rogelio Rojo, Cpl. Bernard Rodrigo, Pfc. Prince Kevin Balaba and Private Joseph Tamayo.
Villabito then proceeded to another room but two alert soldiers put up a fight and killed him. Another soldier, Staff Sgt. Braulio Macalos, was wounded.
“After firing the shots towards the four sleeping soldiers, the suspect was also killed while trying to enter another room inside the camp,” Garillo said.
“We offer our prayers and sincerest condolences and families. In these trying times, we are one with families praying for the repose of their souls. We assure them that all assistance will be facilitated and provided to the families to include the benefits and claims,” he added.
“We cannot really determine what transpired and how. We will still find out,” Garillo stressed.
“We assure the public that this is an isolated incident. This will not have any impact in the operations,” the military official said.
Militants under Daulah Islamiyah, the local name of the Islamic State (IS), whose membership comprises fighters from several Filipino militant factions, are known to be actively operating in Mindanao.
But the military said the incident had nothing to do with those militants.
In October last year, a former Abu Sayyaf member who was allowed to work inside a military camp ran amok, killing a soldier and two civilians in the town of Sumisip in Basilan.
In May 2020, a former soldier also killed seven people and wounded two when he indiscriminately shot his neighbors and bystanders in Calbayog City, in central Samar province.
The military camp where the incident happened is reportedly among nine locations where the Philippines has granted the United States access as part of U.S. efforts to expand its presence in the region.
Cagayan de Oro is also a short drive to Marawi City, where a small team of U.S. troops assisted Philippine forces in defeating pro-IS militants who had seized the city in 2017.
While the American troops were restricted from combat operations, they helped their Filipino counterparts gather intelligence that led to victory in the five-month battle where at least 1,200 militants, government forces and civilians were killed.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales contributed to this report from Cotabato City, southern Philippines