10 hurt in bus explosion in North Cotabato town

Police identified the injured as Wilbert Jerbolingo, 10; Alover dela Pena, 21, son of the bus’ dispatcher; Katherine Tillado, 27; Geofrey Alcade, 27; Ricardo Dordas, 37, driver of a multi-cab; Raul Sajolga, 30; Jocelyn Bernalte;  Roi Firma, 28; Therese Balcita, 27;  Gilbert Tejero, 21. All the victims were residents of Poblacion, Matalam.

Of the injured, two were in serious condition. Both Dordas and Raul sustained shrapnel wounds in different parts of their bodies.

The injured were brought to North Cotabato Provincial Hospital in Amas, kidapawan city.

Sr. Insp. Benjamin Colona, Matalam police chief, said that about 12:45 pm today, passengers of the bus, owned by the Peoples’ Transport (formerly Weena Transport Corporation), first heard a thud at a rear portion of the vehicle and saw a billow of smoke. 

“They thought one of the tires exploded so they all went down the bus.   Few minutes later, another loud bang was heard,” Colona said. “This time, the explosive was so powerful that it damaged the upper portion of the bus and almost got it burned.”

Police said that the second explosion happened 15 minutes after the first explosion.

Investigators recovered two cellular phones inside the bus, but they would not say if these were used as triggering devices of those bombs.  The bus terminal is about 20 kilometers north of this city.

The bombing took place two days after North Cotabato Police Office declared a red alert status due to intelligence reports on possible attacks by the Indonesia-based militant group, Jemaah Islamiya, which was suspected to have a strong presence in Southwest Mindanao.

Bus dispatcher Alberto dela Pena, whose son was among the injured, said that his company has been receiving bomb threats and extortion letters since May this year.

The latest was last June 6, two days before the blast.

Early May this year, a bomb blasted off inside Weena Bus terminal in Cotabato City, some 180 kilometers north of this city, and injured several people, including the company’s branch manager.

Extortion was one of the motives seen in the blast, said Colona. He, however, would not discount the possibility that the bomb could be part of terrorists’ plan to sow chaos in Southwestern Mindanao by staging bomb attacks in several key cities, including Kidapawan and Makilala. The two cities in North Cotabato were rocked by series of bomb blasts in 2006.

The attack, according to one of the top police officials in North Cotabato could be a ‘diversionary’ tactic.  “We have already deployed several policemen and Army troops in different exit and entry points in Kidapawan City and Makilala since we received intelligence reports that these areas are targets of terror attacks,” he said.