3 suspects so far in Cagayan de Oro blast

PNP releases sketches based on testimonies of witnesses

COMPOSITE SKETCHES. Witnesses provide descriptions of 3 suspects to the deadly Cagayan de Oro blast. Photos courtesy of PNP-PIO

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Three days since the deadly explosion in Cagayan de Oro City that killed 8 and injured 48 others, the Philippine National Police (PNP) released composite sketches of 3 male suspects.

The sketches were created from witnesses’ testimonies, PNP Chief Alan Purisima told reporters on Monday, July 29.

But he declined to give more details, admitting they do not have sufficient evidence and that the drawings are only of “probable” suspects.

“The case is being investigated. We want to complete our data first so once its completed we will discuss details of the incident,” he said.

All 3 suspects are unidentified and described by witnesses as medium-built and fair-skinned.

The first suspect is believed to be 26-30 years old, 5’5 to 5’6 ft tall, wearing a brown T-shirt and pants at the time of the explosion. The second suspect is about the same height as the first, but older, estimated to be at least 40 years old. He too was wearing a brown shirt and long pants. The third suspect is said to be about 36-40 years old, wearing a gray T-shirt and a cap, and is 5’4 to 5’5 ft tall.

Cagayan De Oro City was rocked by an explosion late Friday night, at around 11:10 pm, July 26. No angle or motive has been determined. 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. 

Obstruction of justice

Purisima gave assurances an exhaustive probe is ongoing. He admitted the “PNP [is] again being put to the test with the bomb attack,” and condemned the explosion.

“I have already directed all police commanders… to intensify their intelligence and target hardening efforts,” he said.

Purisima said they are also looking at lapses of first responders and police officers, especially in relation to the immediate clean-up of the crime scene, which hindered police investigation.

CRIME SCENE. Outside Kyla's Bistro at an arcade in Cagayan de Oro City, right after the explosion. Photo EPA/Bobby Lagsa

Purisima said it appears the area “had been tampered with,” and part of the investigation is who ordered the clean-up and what led to it. But Purisima said they were also speaking to the police on the scene.

“Why did it happen that the area was cleaned? What is the specific work [the police] did in order for them to justify why they could not prevent the cleaning of the crime scene?,” he said. “The cleaning of a crime scene is obstruction of justice.”

Because of this added challenge, and the “wide area” of the crime scene, Purisima said they could not yet jump to conclusions. He refused to say whether the police thought the attack was a terrorist act, but he assured the public, “we have leads.”

Intelligence officers are also looking at possible police lapses before the incident – whether the cops could have prevented it in the first place.

Search for motive

A special unit is concentrating on the composite sketches and studying the motives of the bomber, said Purisima.

PROBABLE SUSPECTS. Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima shows media composite sketches of suspects in Cagayan de Oro City blast based on witnesses' testimonies. Photo by Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler

Among the motives they are considering include whether the blast targeted a specific individual or was meant to sow chaos, or whether it was done to prevent visitors from coming to CDO or derail the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“All the victims are being studied on why they were there, what their status in life is, what they were doing there. Was there a reason why they should be victims in the blast?,” said Purisima.

‘Telcos must register prepaid SIM cards’

Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who hails from Cagayan de Oro, delivered a privilege speech in the Senate denouncing the attack and calling for justice for the victims.

“The masterminds must be identified, prosecuted and penalized now, soon. The two Boston bombers were identified in a matter of days. The killer of innocent students in Norway was tried and convicted in only a couple of months. I don’t have Norwegian blood but I expect police in Cagayan de Oro to do their work with dispatch,” Pimentel said.

“Otherwise [this crime] will go down in history as one of the most dastardly offenses committed in the country without anyone held accountable. I urge the PNP to get the mastermind. I don’t want it said the offense was solved but only the small fry was sanctioned,” he added.

Sen Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said that the bombing highlights the need for the long-running proposal to ask telecommunication companies to register prepaid SIM cards.

“The Makati bomb blast and other blasts done not only in Philippines were always triggered by a cellphone. If you check on the telco, they won’t be able to trace it, why? We’ve time and again called on telcos to register prepaid SIM cards. It’s used for kidnapping, blackmail and it’s not traceable,” Sotto said during the session.

Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, who also hails from Mindanao, backed Sotto’s proposal, and also condemned the bombing.

“It’s like you bombed Eastwood or Greenbelt. That’s the equivalent of Limketkai Center. This is not the first incident that’s been happening in Northern Mindanao. A lot of incidents have been happening. I would like to voice my concern over the deteriorating peace and order over the whole Northern Mindanao,” Guingona said. 

He added, “How many bombings do we have to wait [for] to register SIM cards?”

Pimentel also called on public and private establishments to install CCTV to help law enforcement officials. – with a report from Ayee Macaraig / Rappler.com 

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