PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – He’s a former rebel who had undergone specialized military training such as bomb making.
Sources in the military and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said the suspect in the series of bombings in Palawan used to belong to the MNLF and was among the MNLF commandos who were sent to Palawan at the height of
the Moro secessionist rebellion in the 1970s and prior to the forging
of the first peace agreement with the Marcos government in 1976.
The suspect, Hiya Hassan, known as Commander Cobra at the height of the MNLF conflict, was arrested Sunday, April 8, by agents of the National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
Investigators linked his daughter to a mobile phone that was used in sending warning and scare text messages to the bus company where one of the bombs had exploded last Thursday, April 5.
On the same day, a bomb also exploded near a cottage in El Nido resort town, Palawan.
The same mobile number was traced by government agents as the origin of a message warning of more bombings and which were sent to Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn.
Disowned by MNLF
An MNLF official however clarified that Hassan is no longer with them.
“He is no longer part of the MNLF,” said Al Babao, an MNLF official who is chair of the MNLF central Palawan state committee. “If the police reports are true that Hassan may be involved, we in the MNLF have nothing to do with that.”
Babao said there are about 15,000 MNLF members in Palawan “but all of them are non-combatants and do not bear arms.” Many ex-MNLF members are now integrated with the police and the military following a peace agreement with the Ramos government.
Babao stressed that Hassan is one of the ex-MNLF rebels “operating outside the mandate” of the organization. He urged authorities to look into Hassan’s alleged links with fugitive ex-Palawan governor Joel T. Reyes, who’s being hunted for the murder of broadcaster Dr Gerry Ortega.
Western Command chief Maj Gen Juancho Sabban told reporters Monday that Hassan’s group broke away from the the MNLF and that the recent bombing incidents “may have been the handiwork” of disgruntled MNLF members.
He said the military is still evaluating “all possible angles and motives,” including reports that Hassan’s group may be involved in “extortion” and was squabbling with other MNLF groups over money matters.
“We know that they are factionalized in one way or another. They may be involved in activities in the past there were extortion messages sent by some of them to commercial establishments,” Sabban said.
“Extortion? Yes. Maybe. Because the intention (of the bombing was not
to harm but to send a message,” he added.
Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn had earlier asked the Task
Group Hunter to probe the connection between Hassan and Reyes.
Babao said he also thinks the bombings could be politically motivated. “They should look at reports that Hassan is or has been employed at the Capitol and is closely identified with the former governor who is now in hiding because of the Ortega murder case,” Babao said.
Reyes, along with his brother and Coron Mayor Mario Reyes and two former provincial capitol staffers, have been in hiding since last week, when warrants of arrest were issued against them for the murder of Palawan broadcaster and environmentalist Dr Gerry Ortega. – Rappler.com