MARAMAG, Bukidnon—Pieces of evidence found in a bus that was bombed late Tuesday point to an act of terror but police said they have yet to identify the group behind the blast that killed at least 11 people.
More than 30 others, mostly high school students on their way home, were wounded.
A police forensic team recovered fragments of a mortar shell and a mobile phone believed to have been used as a remote detonating device when it sifted through the wreck of the bus on Wednesday.
But Chief Supt. Isagani Genabe Jr., Northern Mindanao police director, said authorities are still uncertain about the identity of the group behind the bombing of a Rural Transit bus as it passed near the Central Mindanao University (CMU) in the village of Dologon here.
Definitely not NPA
The military said it suspects that a rebel group was behind the attack, but the province’s governor, Jose Ma. Zubiri, said he was certain that the New People’s Army (NPA), which is waging what could be the world’s oldest communist rebellion, is not involved in the attack, the second on the bus company since Nov. 6.
Zubiri said the attack was most likely carried out by an extortion group that the bus firm had ignored.
The governor said prior to the bombing on Tuesday, a Rural Transit bus had been bombed on Nov. 6, which wounded three persons. “The Nov. 6 attack was apparently a warning,” said Zubiri.
The bus that was attacked on Tuesday came from the town of Wao in Lanao del Sur, one of the provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, an area where the terror group Abu Sayyaf and the renegade Moro guerrilla force Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front (BIFF) operate.
Mujiv Hataman, governor of ARMM, said “it is unthinkable that someone could do that, especially since a number of victims were students who could be on their way home for the holidays.”
Malacañang, through spokesperson Abigail Valte, said Palace officials “are set on finding who is responsible.”
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, head of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) based in Zamboanga City, said BIFF, composed of former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who refuse to accept the MILF’s peace deal with the government, could be behind the attack.
“Our probable suspects are members of the BIFF,” said Guerrero.
He said while the bomb exploded in an area under the jurisdiction of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), “there was a possibility that the improvised explosive device (IED) was planted in Wao in Lanao,” where the BIFF operates, among other places.
Guerrero said the Westmincom is coordinating with the Eastmincom in the investigation.
He said he believed that the Eastmincom “has already come out with the same suspect.”
Maj. Ezra Balagtey, Eastmincom spokesperson, said the command also believes that Tuesday’s bombing was the work of BIFF.
Balagtey said the bombing could be a “test mission” for BIFF recruits.
‘From the military’
But Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesperson, said the military’s statements were outrageous.
“Bombing civilians would not benefit us,” said Mama. “The question is who is capable of acquiring mortar rounds to be used as IEDs? Definitely it’s from the military,” he said.
The IED used in Tuesday’s attack, according to Westmincom chief Guerrero, was similar to those used in bombings being blamed on BIFF, including the previous attack on a Rural Transit bus on Nov. 6.
Police had charged a Dautin Gondak, an alleged BIFF member, for the Nov. 6 bus bomb attack but Gondak remains at large.
Mama denied that the BIFF has a member by the name of Dautin Gendang or Dautin Gondak. “The AFP is fabricating stories again to malign us,” he said.
In a phone interview, Hataman cautioned against quickly pointing an accusing finger at any group.
“We cannot easily point our fingers at one group and conclude that it is behind the bombing, unless we can really show proof,” he said.
He said should the extortion angle hold, the bus firm’s management must come forward to help in the investigation.
Stroke of luck
One of the witnesses in Tuesday’s attack, student Mark Anthony Anibong, said the bombed bus stopped at the gates of CMU to pick up more passengers shortly before the explosion.
Anibong, who was on another bus, said in an interview with a radio station here that the target bus exploded in front of the Philippine Dairy Center building just minutes after picking up passengers at the CMU gate.
Anibong said he was supposed to get in the bombed bus but it was full so he took the next bus.
Most victims are high school students who rode on the bombed bus at the gates of CMU.