Aquino orders arrest of bus blast suspects-A A +A
Friday, October 22, 2010
KIDAPAWAN CITY -- President Benigno Aquino III condemned the bombing of a passenger bus early Thursday that killed 10 people and injured 30 others and ordered police to step up security at possible terrorist targets.
The bus, which had 50 passengers, was travelling along Kabacan-Matalam highway in North Cotabato province when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded around 10:45 a.m.
The force of the blast was so strong that it decapitated two of the victims, police said.
Aquino directed Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Raul Bacalso to conduct a manhunt against the suspects and to intensify security in areas that need extra attention, particularly cities, which are the main centers of population.
“I will get further updates on how we can harden suspected objects of attention by terrorist groups to ensure the safety of our people,” he said.
Aside from possible terrorist attack, Aquino said the police are also looking at the angle of extortion following information that the buses owned by Rural Transit were subjected to extortion attempts in the past.
Aquino, meanwhile, said there was no indication that Thursday's bombing in North Cotabato was connected to the bomb threat at the Ayala Trading Floor in Makati City’s central financial district.
The bomb scare at the Philippine Stock Exchange happened at 9:50 a.m. Thursday. No bomb was recovered in the building after a thorough check by the explosives and ordnance teams of the police.
Presidential Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang said violent incidents, such as bombing and other atrocities that claimed lives of innocent people, have been a serious concern to the government.
“These things are always a concern for the Palace,” Carandang said.
The ill-fated bus left Cagayan de Oro City early Thursday and was on its way to Tacurong City when the bomb exploded after it left the bus station in Matalam town.
"It was so powerful that people were killed on the spot," said North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said.
Seven passengers were killed on-the-spot while two others later died in a hospital while undergoing treatment.
Senior Inspector Joyce Birrey, spokesperson of the North Cotabato police, said the fatalities were seated near the area where the IED, found at the third seat from the right side of the rear portion of the Rural Transit deluxe bus, exploded.
Three of the fatalities were identified as Rural Transit bus conductor Bryan Galagas and Tanting Yusop Daligan, a student of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan town. Both were residents of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, according to the identification cards recovered from them.
Another blast victim, who died around 1:20 p.m. while treated at the Cotabato Provincial Hospital, was identified as Lita Manzano of Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat.
The 30 people sustaining injuries from bomb shrapnel were brought to different hospitals in North Cotabato. Seven of them were brought to the North Cotabato Provincial Hospital in Amas Complex; two at the Kidapawan Doctors Hospital; and the rest at M'lang Doctors Hospital in M'lang, North Cotabato.
A nurse of the North Cotabato Provincial Hospital identified four of the injured as Guinaid Adam, Abson Camino, Noraida Daud, and Geria Daud, all residents of Pikit, North Cotabato.
A still unidentified female passenger who was given initial treatment at a hospital in M'lang town was transferred to the Kidapawan Doctors Hospital. Attending surgeon Dr. Edwin Gantuangco said the victim is still unconscious as of this posting Thursday due to severe head injuries.
It was earlier reported that the bus driver was among the fatalities, but an updated report from the police stated that it was the bus assistant.
The bus driver said three unidentified males boarded the bus along the highway in Kabacan town and disembarked when the bus reached the Poblacion of Matalam town. Minutes later, when the bus was heading towards Barangay Dalapitan, boundary of M’lang and Matalam towns, the explosion happened.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said authorities suspect the Al-Khobar extortion gang in the attack, saying the bus company involved in the bombing had been targeted for extortion in the past.
Al-Khobar is the most notorious of the region's extortion gangs, and authorities said it is composed of criminals and former Moro rebels who have been blamed for attacking business establishments refusing to pay their ransom demands. The group is on a US list of terrorist organizations.
But Felicisimo Khu, chief director for Integrated Police Operations (Dipo) for Western Mindanao, said the IED that went off was fashioned from a mortar cartridge and triggered by a mobile phone.
Khu, citing initial data gathered from the field, said the bombing was a terror act and was orchestrated by disgruntled members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), two weeks after a top MILF official was arrested in Davao City.
"We ruled out extortion as among the motives in the blast when the bus management told us they have not received any extortion threat from any groups operating in Mindanao," Khu said in an interview over Catholic-ran DXND.
Mohagher Iqbal, the chief negotiator for the Moro rebels, denied such accusation, saying his group had no involvement in Thursday's bombing.
"We have forces there, but not along the highway," he told The Associated Press. "We will never get involved in matters like that."
He said the bombing could be a result of business rivalry or extortion.
The explosion broke the lull in bombing in Central Mindanao, a region with the most number of bomb attacks allegedly from extortionists and terrorists.
Central Mindanao covers the provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato City.
Each of the cities, at one time or another, has been hit by bomb attacks.
Many of the bomb attacks in the region have been blamed to extortionists preying on bus companies in the area, authorities have said.
It was the first deadly bomb attack against civilians in Central Mindanao region under the new administration of President Aquino, and drew condemnation from the business sector.
Allan Yaphockun, a businessman from this city and the governor of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Southwestern Mindanao, asked the President to solve the bombings that plagued the area in the past several years.
"Past presidents have failed to address the bomb attacks in the region. I hope that President Aquino would look at the peace and order condition in Mindanao and address it to end these senseless bombings," Yaphockun said when sought for reaction. (Malu Cadelina Manar/Bong Sarmiento of Sun.Star Davao/Jill Beltran/AH/AP/Sunnex)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 22, 2010.