'Extortion' behind Bukidnon bus blast – governor
Zubiri made the statement Wednesday, December 10, after a security briefing from the police and the military on the bombing of a bus of Rural Transit Mindanao Inc (RTMI) at the front gate of the Central Mindanao University on December 9.
Zubiri said that based on the preliminary findings, an improvised explosive device with an 80-millimeter mortar shell was used in the bombing. He said top security officials noticed a similarity in an earlier bombing of an RTMI bus on November 6, 2014, also along the national highway in Maramag town.
“The November 6 bombing could have been a warning to RTMI, where 4 people were injured in the early evening attack,” Zubiri said.
The Bukidnon governor said that the extortion angle came out after the RTMI management denied that the company is a target of extortionists.
Zubiri said, however, that it was learned that RTMI had reportedly paid off extortionists in the past.
He said Bukidnon security officials are eyeing suspected extortionist group, groups, or individuals in the Cotabato area.
No suspects yet
While a group that calls itself "Kalifa Islamiya Mindanao (KIM)" claimed responsibility for the latest bombing in social media, Major Christian Uy, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said that the military cannot identify the suspects until the investigation is complete.
The Bukidnon governor dismissed reports that the bombing was carried out by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (READ: BIFF group blamed for deadly PH bombing)
The BIFF had already said that they are not behind the attack.
“We cannot believe that the BIFF could do such thing. We just celebrated our 100 years as a province and during the month-long celebration where thousands of visitors came, if it was their intention to harm people, they could have done that at that time,” Zubiri said.
He said he does not believe that the New People’s Army carried out the attack, since they are not known to attack civilians. If the NPA wanted to attack the bus firm, he added, its members would have ordered the passengers to alight the bus before burning down the vehicle.
Tighter measures, help for victims
Following the bombing, security officials and the provincial government agreed to impose stringent security measures in the province – subject to approval by the provincial board.
Under the proposal, the police, military, and the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) will set up 6 permanent checkpoints in entry points into the province from Davao, Cotabato, Cagayan de Oro, and the Agusan provinces.
Zubiri added that the security measures will be patterned after Davao City’s Task Force Davao.
The Bukidnon official lamented that the latest incident had affected the province’s reputation as a peaceful area.
“We have been voted 3 times as the most peaceful province across the country and this (bombing) has totally changed that,” Zubiri said.
The governor also said that he had written the RTMI management to provide the families of the fatalities at least P50,000 ($1,121*) as assistance.
“Anything less than that is unacceptable. It is the duty and responsibility of the RTMI to provide safe transport for their passengers,” Zubiri said, adding that the provincial government will provide the same amount per family.
He said RTMI should also shoulder the hospitalization of those hurt by the blast, and warned that “if they will not do that, I will make it impossible for the RTMI to pass through the province.”
Fear and uncertainty
In Central Mindanao University, the atmosphere following the bombing is one of fear and uncertainty. The incident claimed the lives of 6 staffmembers and students from CMU.
Joseph Cris Tadeo, a freshman student, said he now fears getting on the bus going home every weekend.
Clyde Deocampo, another freshman, said circulating text messages warned that the bombing was perpetrated by the BIFF. Based on this rumor, there are concerns that there could be another attack, this time inside the campus.
CMU, which is situated between the city of Valencia and the town of Maramag has no night time establishments, and is surrounded by experimental farms and vast rice fields owned by the university.
Melissa Leah Diana, a faculty of CMU and her sister Ross Diana, a freshman, said that they were just across the road when the blast happened.
The two have sent off Ross’ classmate and good friend Mariel Achacoso on the RTMI bus.
When they saw the explosion, they thought they witnessed fireworks until they saw people screaming and running away from the bus.
“I saw people coming off the bus, some bloodied,” one of the sisters said.
Achacoso did not make it, dead at 17.
Holding back her tears, Ross recalled her friend. “She was of strong faith, bubbly and smart; so much future could have been waiting for her.”
Achacoso was on her way home to Malaybalay City in Bukidnon when she took the ill-fated bus.
“We could not do anything for her. We were afraid too; we are afraid now,” Ross said.
The school administration, released a statement denouncing what they called a “senseless, inhuman act.” – Rappler.com