Staff Sgt. Rudy Amihan Jr. (Photo courtesy of North Cotabato PNP)

MANILA – Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. on Friday assured to expedite the release of all benefits of the police officer who died in a shootout with a group of armed robbers in M'lang, Cotabato province.

"(His) benefits will be immediately released as soon as possible (to his family)," he said in a statement.

Azurin also paid tribute to 51-year-old Staff Sgt. Rudy Amihan Jr., a member of the M'lang Municipal Police Station, for demonstrating bravery and his desire to protect the citizenry.

“Sergeant Amihan died with his boots on, in the finest police tradition of valor, service and sacrifice to serve and protect the people," Azurin said.

The Police Regional Office in Soccsksargen (PRO-12) also mourned the death of Amihan.

“I express my deepest sympathies to the bereaved family of the victims. Rest assured that we will never stop hunting down these lawless criminals and deliver justice,” PRO-12 chief Brig. Gen. Jimili Macaraeg said in a statement Friday.

Amihan was with a team of responding police officers following a robbery holdup incident in Barangay Bagontapay, M’lang town on Wednesday afternoon.

About a dozen armed robbers raided a roadside bakeshop in the area and took carted away more than PHP17,000 in cash and other belongings.

Before fleeing, the suspects shot dead customer Jack Gumilao and wounded two other customers.

Minutes later, some of the escaping robbery gang and responding policemen traded shots in Barangay Sangat.

Four of the robbery gang members were slain during the shootout while eight escaped toward Barangay Dungguan, the gateway to the Maguindanao marshland.

M’lang Mayor Russel Abonado said the suspects were also involved in other robbery incidents in other towns in the province and Tacurong City in adjacent Sultan Kudarat province.

After the incident, Abonado suspended classes until Friday to ensure the safety of schoolchildren due to reports of a bombing plot by the companions of the slain robbers.

Col. Harold Ramos, North Cotabato police director, commended the police for responding on time and neutralizing four of the syndicate members.

“We condole with the family of our fallen comrade, Staff Sgt. Rudy Amihan Jr. who died during the performance of his duty,” he said.

Ensuing pursuit operations also resulted in the death of four of the armed robbers.

Azurin, meanwhile, said the remaining eight unidentified suspects immediately fled heading to the marshland of Barangay Dungo-an, M'lang, Cotabato and are now the subject of a pursuit operation.

Meanwhile, two police officers, Cpl. Noli Labesores and Pat. Herzon Neyra and civilians Tweeny Daza and Jose Patlubay, were wounded in the encounter.

"All four wounded were brought to Kidapawan Medical Specialist Hospital for medical treatment," PNP public information office chief Col. Redrico Maranan said.

Maranan said crime scene investigators recovered four handguns used by the slain suspects. (PNA)