MANILA, Philippines – Even before the bombings in Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato and North Cotabato, police already got intelligence reports about attacks in Mindanao.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima told a Senate inquiry on Wednesday, August 7, that the PNP got wind of possible bombings.
“There were reports circulating – that we’re trying to validate – that there will be bombings of major cities in Mindanao,” Purisima said in a Senate probe into the July 26 Cagayan de Oro blast.
Later pressed by reporters about details, Purisima said the reports contained “very general information” and “it was just a text [message] report” that “comes on a daily basis.”
Asked why the police was unable to prevent the Cagayan de Oro bombing, Purisima responded, “Can you prevent that from happening?”
The PNP chief said his group conducted “target-hardening measures” like increasing police presence, and conducting checkpoints and raids.
On the identity of the bombers, Purisima repeated a line he and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas often said during the hearing: that it will be best for the police and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to brief senators in an executive session.
“We are not confirming nor denying [anything]. We are looking at all angles,” Purisima said.
The Senate public order committee chaired by Sen Grace Poe is looking into the July 26 bombing in Cagayan de Oro City that left 8 dead and over 40 injured.
Police have yet to identify the perpetrators but a report of a risk control organization obtained by Rappler showed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is the likely suspect.
In just 10 days, another bombing hit Cotabato, killing 8 people. Just hours before the hearing, another blast rocked Midsayap, North Cotabato.
READ: Aquino vows arrest as Cotabato toll rises
In the hearing, Purisima and Roxas also could not say whether or not the 3 bombings in Mindanao are related to each other, and to the global terror threat that caused the closure of US embassies and consulates over the weekend.
“If we say they are interrelated while we lack data, we are spreading fear. If we say they are not interrelated and then the time may come we will be proven wrong. It’s hard to say if you do not have complete information,” Roxas said.
“The US and the UK released a warning but it will be irresponsible for us to say the explosions here are connected to that when the connection is not clear,” he added.
Roxas stressed that the information authorities have is still incomplete and raw.
Police said they are looking at various angles in the Cagayan de Oro blast like a personal grudge against slain Provincial Board Member Roldan Lagbas, terrorism, and the local government’s clearing of vendors. They did not name groups possibly behind the attack.
Yet senators pressed Roxas and the police about how they could apprehend the bombers.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said that with the list and profile of crime groups and the Anti-Terrorism Law at the police’s disposal, officials should have had an idea who was behind the Cagayan de Oro bombing.
“By now, you should have information on all this. That’s the purpose of intelligence funds given by Congress. I’m sure it’s easy for you to detect possible targets of your investigation.”
Roxas said, “With respect to who has the capacity, wherewithal to assemble elements to make this happen, the access to technology, detonation and mortal shells, there is the information package available. My judgment is it will not be beneficial to divulge this as it will be aiding enemies of the state.”
Sen Ralph Recto suggested that the officials just brief the Senate in a future executive session.
Roxas agreed to this but admitted that the information for now was “hilaw na hilaw” (very raw).
On Tuesday evening, August 6, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of Region 10 filed multiple murder charges against 3 suspects in the CDO blast.
Police have declined to reveal the suspects’ identities for now until Purisima makes an official announcement.
‘Explosives market in Jolo’
In the hearing, Poe asked the resource speakers about an information she got from an unnamed victims that bomb-making has become a “cottage industry” in parts of Mindanao, and explosives are easily obtained.
Roxas replied, “Without denying or confirming but in so many ways affirming what the chairman said, clearly regulated substances or devices [like grenades] are not so regulated and controlled.”
Purisima said the police is taking measures to resolve this.
“What the PNP is doing is confiscating explosives in Jolo, in a market in Jolo where the explosives are being sold in tingi (in retail).”
Poe said the information was “scary” and the police should adopt a zero tolerance policy.
Monitoring mining firms, inventory
Roxas gave recommendations to address the problem. He asked the senators to give his department and the police budget for more units monitoring the explosives that go in and out of mining firms.
“Para ang labas-pasok ng dinamita ay nabibilang, malaking tulong iyon.” (So we can monitor the entry and exit of dynamites and have an accounting of the explosives, that will be a big help.)
He added, “If you will say you won’t pass our budget until we account all of the mortars, all the M203, I’m just saying that because you might be thinking about it. We will see the source of the explosives and have an inventory.”
Recto quipped, “Good thing you said that. Yes, we are thinking about it.”
Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) suggested stiffer penalties for crime, prompting the committee to consider reviewing Republic Act 9516, which imposed tougher penalties on the manufacture, sale and possession of explosives.
The senators also asked for an inventory of laws related to the bombing, with the goal of checking and updating them and passing those that need to be enacted.
For Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno, only the resolution of the case will satisfy the victims and their families.
“The incident was a serious blow to Cagayan de Oro’s quest for leadership. The bombing had tremendous consequence to the city, to Northern Mindanao.” – Rappler.com
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