MANILA - Nearly 100 inmates who escaped a week ago during the Philippines' biggest jailbreak remain on the run with some being protected by Moro rebels or bandits, authorities said Wednesday.
One guard was killed as dozens of gunmen raided a dilapidated jail in the strife-torn south of the country, with murderers and rapists among the 158 prisoners who took advantage of the chaos to escape.
Authorities said they had carried out an extensive manhunt in vast farmlands and isolated villages surrounding Kidapawan city where the jailbreak took place, which netted 51 of the escapees and killed 10 others.
However 97 remained on the run, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Emmanuel Peralta told AFP on Wednesday.
He said some inmates may have taken refuge in camps of various Moro armed groups that are based in the region, with the rebels refusing to shelter any of the Christian escapees.
"That is what some of those who were recaptured are saying. They (the escaped Christians) are told to separate from the Muslim inmates because they are not allowed inside the camps of those they are hiding with," Peralta said.
The head of provincial jails, Superintendent Simeon Dolojo, gave a similar assessment.
"According to some reports coming from the Philippine police and military, they are coddled by armed groups, definitely, Muslim armed groups," Dolojo told AFP.
He did not specify who was believed to be sheltering the escapees, saying many different rebel groups or gangs were based in the area.
The southern region of Mindanao is the ancestral homeland of the largely Catholic Philippines' Muslim minority.
Muslim rebels have waged a separatist insurgency since the 1970s, with the conflict claiming more than 120,000 lives.
While the major rebel organizations have for years observed a ceasefire with the government as part of peace efforts, there are breakaway factions opposed to compromise and other gangs that have declared allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The area where the jailbreak took place, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Manila, has a mixed Christian and Muslim population.
Von al-Haq, military spokesman of the largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), denied to AFP on Thursday it was involved in the jailbreak or that it was sheltering any of the inmates.
Militants have attacked the Kidapawan jail repeatedly.
In 2007, gunmen freed 49 inmates there. Among those who escaped was Khair Mundos, one of the main leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for the Philippines' worst terrorist attacks. He was recaptured in 2014.