Davao blast: ‘We can, we must’ stand up now

Bea Cupin
Davao blast: ‘We can, we must’ stand up now

Manman Dejeto

It isn't fear that grips the streets of Davao City after Friday night. It's shock, uncertainty.

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Roxas Street in Davao City was quieter than usual on Saturday afternoon, September 3, the day after a blast ripped through one of the city’s bustling night markets a little before 11 pm on Friday, September 2.

It isn’t fear that grips the streets of Davao City. It’s shock and uncertainty over an explosion that claimed the lives of at least 14 people and injured 67. (For updates on the Davao blast, check Rappler’s live blog)

“Last night, evil came,” started Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles during a Mass right at the spot where an improvised explosive device (IED) ripped through the Roxas Night Market.

The night market, said Valles, was an “equalizing place” where rich and poor, young and old would mingle.

Valles’ homily, delivered less than 24 hours after the tragic explosion, encompasses what many in Davao City feel. The bombing made no sense at all, said Valles.

A pregnant woman was reportedly among the injured.

A city shock, hurt

By Saturday evening, September 3, the Roxas Night Market was once again open to the public.

“We assure the people that we are doing our best to keep the situation in Davao City and neighboring provinces as normal as possible. That’s why we encourage [the return of] activities at normal course of commerce here in the city of Davao,” Davao Regional police director Chief Superintendent Manuel Gaerlan said that night.

While the desire for things to go back to normal is there, it would probably take a while.

“Business has been bad,” said one taxi driver. “People would rather stay inside their houses for now,” he added.

But when the local city government announced plans to hold a mass in tribute of the blast victims, hundreds showed up – Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, daughter of the President, and her city councilors, members of the Church, police, residents, and even members of the city’s renowned emergency and rescue teams, still in work gear.

“We will not run away,” said Valles.

Duterte’s ‘Exhibit A’

SOLIDARITY. People attending the vigil Mass for the victims of Friday's explosion, September 3, 2016. Photo by Manman Dejeto/Rappler

Davao City, Mindanao’s main cultural and commercial hub, is – and has always been – “exhibit A” of President Duterte’s mettle as a leader.

Duterte, who was mayor of Davao for over 20 years, has always boasted of the peace and order in the city, which decades ago was a land of lawlessness and chaos. A self-anointed “leftist,” Duterte has managed to strike the balance and achieve harmony among different and competing forces in the city.

That Davao City is surrounded by towns, cities, and provinces where the peace and order situation isn’t the most ideal makes Davao’s relative quiet even more noteworthy.

So it was an emotional Duterte that visited the blast site and condoled with victims, both the surviving and the deceased, in the early hours of the morning on Saturday.

‘Don’t involve civilians’

While police have yet to identify the suspects behind the blast, the most likely culprit is the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) or its splinter group. Over the past few weeks, the Armed Forces of the Philippines had been stepping up its offensives against the terrorist group in Sulu.

The blast is believed to have been either a “retaliation” for or “diversion” from the ongoing military operations against the ASG in Western Mindanao.

Expected natin na galit pa rin, galit sa pangyayari (It’s only expected that he’s still angry, angry over what happened),” PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said of Duterte on Sunday, September 4, hours after a late night to early morning meeting with the President.

“‘Pag siya’y galit talagang pinapakita niya na siya’y naiinis, siya’y nagagalit (When he’s angry, he’ll really show that he’s pissed off, that he’s angry),” added Dela Rosa.

The police general, whom Duterte handpicked to lead the PNP, knows the President better than most. He was a young lieutenant, fresh off the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), when he was assigned to his home region of Davao in 1986. It was the same year Duterte was appointed officer-in-charge vice mayor.

Saturday night, Duterte and Dela Rosa met for the first time since the deadly blast.

“It’s quite draining. Emotionally draining. Isipin mo naman na bakit hahantong sa mga innocent lost lives dahil nga dito sa pangyayari na ito (Because you wonder why innocent lives were lost because of what happened),” said the PNP chief.

By Sunday morning, a makeshift memorial of sorts had been set up at the blast site. A sign attached to one of the biggest flower arrangements read: “The measure of success of terrorism is how long it takes for the victims to stand up. We must stand up NOW.” – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.