MANILA, Philippines (7th UPDATE) — Cagayan De Oro City was rocked by an explosion late Friday night, at around 11:10 pm, July 26. It killed at least 6 and injured 48 others, police and local officials said Saturday, July 27.
(We reported on Saturday 8 casualties, “including 3 doctors,” quoting a Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) statement sent by text by its vice president, Dr Tony Leachon. The PCP issued a corrected statement Sunday, July 28, putting the number of casualties at 6, including one doctor. – Ed.)
The explosion occurred between Candy’s Café and Kyla’s Bistro at the Rosario Arcade, a strip of al fresco restaurants at the Limketkai Center.
Most of the victims were doctors and pharmaceutical salesmen who had just attended a national convention of lung-disease specialists at the nearby the Grand Caprice hotel, also at the Limketkai center, said the city police chief, Senior Supt Graciano Mijares.
Three of the victims died on the site, while the others died in hospitals.
Three of the casualties – Emmanuel Falafox from Davao, Anthony Canete, and Ryan Estoese – were connected with Sandoz Pharma Phil Corp.
The military’s 4th Infantry Division identified Misamis Oriental Provincial Board member Roldan Lagbas as one of the casualties.
Injured victims were brought to the Polymedic Velez Hospital, Polymedic Plaza Hospital, and the Capitol University Medical Center.
“This is one of the busiest areas of Cagayan de Oro…. Somebody left a bomb on a chair at the bistro,” Mijares told reporters.
An improvised explosive device (IED) was placed on a black monoblock chair and concealed in a black bag, police investigators said.
Mijares declined to speculate on the motive for the bombing, saying an investigation was under way. No angle or motive has been determined.
Cagayan de Oro is located on the main southern island of Mindanao, which has been blighted by a decades-old rebellion by elements of the large Muslim minority.
Witnesses described horrific scenes, with the top of the head of one victim blown off and the torso of another hanging limply on a chair as police sifted through the debris for evidence.
There have been various incidents of bomb threats in the region in the past but these were rare in Cagayan de Oro.
48 wounded, investigation ongoing
Local businessman Noel Arcenas, who owns an electronics shop at the shopping complex where the restaurant is located, said at least 100 people were inside the popular establishment when the explosion occurred.
“I felt then heard the blast,” said Arcenas, who added he was standing about 15 meters (49 feet) away.
“I looked around and saw this ball of white smoke. People were running away bloodied and survivors were dragging at least 7 or 8 people away from the blast site.”
The powerful explosion broke glass panels, upturned tables and chairs, and damaged cars parked up to 30 meters away, reporters at the scene said.
Investigators collected metal fragments and a piece of a 9-volt battery. A sketch of a suspect has been made based on descriptions by witnesses.
The police have recovered all evidence and kept them in custody. A hot pursuit operation is being conducted, as suspects have been identified through CCTV video footage.
Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II flew to Cagayan de Oro but was irked when he saw the crime scene all cleaned up. Roxas pointed out that the crime scene where the Ozamis gang leaders were killed has not been cleaned up to this day.
‘Hard to speculate’
Malacañang condemned the attack.
“We deplore this act of violence at this meeting of professionals, the Philippine College of Physicians, whose mission in life is to bring about healing,” Aquino spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters in Manila.
“We will have to look into the matter and ensure there will be no future breaches of security.”
In a statement, Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon called the blast an “act of inhumanity” in “one of the most progressive and competitive cities in the country.”
A volunteer for Gordon’s 2013 senatorial campaign was also among the casualties.
“We strongly condemn the assault to civil society with collateral damage to PCCP (Philippine College of Chest Physicians) and strongly appeal for the Government to investigate and to set guidelines for these unfortunate events to be avoided in the future,” the physicians’ group said.
“The Department of Health, through Secretary Enrique Ona, and the Board of the Philippine College of Physicians are extending support and medical assistance to the victims. We call for sobriety and pray for peace for our country. Thank you,” it said.
Cagayan de Oro mayor Oscar Moreno said 2 people were still in critical condition at around noon Saturday. Four blast victims were still in the hospital but in a stable condition.
“Doctors have been attending to them and we hope their situation will stabilize soon,” Moreno said.
Asked who he thought was responsible for the attack, he said: “It’s hard to speculate at this time.”
A Special Investigation Task Group was created to handle the case. Checkpoints have been set up in nearby provinces as well. – with reports from Giano Libot, Karlos Manlupig, and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com