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Nineteen Military Recruits Dead In Mass Poisoning, Sabotage Suspected With AM-Philippines

September 6, 1987

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (AP) _ Nineteen paramilitary police recruits died Saturday and nearly 140 others were hospitalized in what authorities said could have been a mass poisoning.

Many of the 225 Philippine Constabulary recruits in a training class here fell ill after a 4.5-mile jog, military officials said.

First reports said the recruits apparently suffered heat strokes, but officials said Sunday that further investigation pointed to poisoning. They said survivors reported that an unidentified person offered the recruits water and candies during the run in this city about 530 miles south of Manila.

″It is my opinion, based on my observation of patients, that a lethal or toxic substance, possibly pesticides, might have been mixed with water and given to the victims,″ said Lt. Col. Dante Quibang, a physician and deputy commander of the military hospital where most of the recruits were taken.

Quibang and Maj. Jose del Rosario, another attending physician, said the victims displayed ″classic poisoning symptoms,″ including disorientation, headaches, dizziness, stomach pains and vomiting of blood followed by death. Quibang said the recruits complained of illness several hours after the run.

In a press conference, Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Rapanan, the regional constabulary commander, said there was ″strong evidence of sabotage, either by enemies of the state, leftists and extremists″ or possibly applicants who had been rejected for the training course.

″The majority of the patients in the hospital confirmed that while jogging, some unidentified person gave them ice water in small plastic bags,″ he said.

Communist and Moslem rebels operate in the Zamboanga area, which is also plagued by a crime wave by various armed criminal gangs.

Rapanam said blood and tissue samples had been sent to Manila for further analysis.

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