Davao-Cotabato passengers stranded as bus company temporarily suspends operations

The temporary suspension will affect thousands of commuters as People’s Transport is the only firm that operates a bus line between Davao City and Cotabato. The firm fields buses every 15 minutes from both areas and the towns between.

Eddie Soledad, manager of Peoples’ Transport Corporation (formerly Weena Bus Company), said the attacks against the company had caused them so much trouble, including damage to property and loss of lives.

The suspension of its operations, he explained, would only be temporary “until authorities would do something to stop the attacks and arrest the suspects.”

Investigators from the Bansalan police said that minutes before the explosion, bus company owner Digoy Valdeviezo called up and informed their dispatcher at the Bansalan public terminal that Weena Bus 1104 was carrying an improvised explosive device (IED).

But the bus had already left the terminal some five minutes before the call was made.  After that, a loud explosion was heard, just a few blocks from the terminal.

Soledad refused to identify the group behind the attacks but admitted it was extorting money from the company.

Reports also said that the harassments were due to some problems between and among the management but Soledad refused to comment on this.

A few hours after the attack on Friday night against Weena Bus 1104 in Bansalan, some 35 kilometers south of this city, Chief Supt. Felizardo Serapio, police regional director for Southwestern Mindanao, ordered the creation of bus marshals tasked to secure buses plying the Cotabato-Davao-Cotabato and  General Santos City-Davao City-General Santos routes.

Also, the North Cotabato provincial government tasked its newly-created elite anti-terror group, Cotabato Rapid Response Group (CRRG), to secure the Cotabato-Makilala highway from groups out to sow terror.

On Friday, around 5:30 p.m., an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded inside a parked Weena aircon bus in Cotabato City, some 180 kilometers north of this city, but no one was injured.  

Thirty minutes later, another powerful bomb, planted inside Weena Bus 1104, went off and killed instantly three bystanders identified as Pepe Viliotes and Ricardo Tulibas, both residents of Bansalan; and Wilson Minel from Magsaysay, Davao del Sur.

The bus conductor identified as Rusty Antelino, resident of this city, and the bus driver identified only as Lu were also killed during the explosion. Red Cross Digos volunteer Donna Cortes told MindaNews in Bansalan that the blast killed nine persons and that  Antelino was profusely bleeding and was transferred to a Digos City hospital, 23 kilometers away.

At the provincial hospital in Digos City, an aide said that of the four wounded brought to them, a female patient died while the three others, including Antelino, were transported to Davao City, 55 kilometers away. Antelino expired there.

At the Mariscal funeral parlor in Digos City, Adelaida Badilla, social welfare officer and action officer of the Municipal Disaster Coordinating Council of Sta. Cruz town who also rushed to the blast scene gave a list of the nine persons who died from the blast and added Antelino’s name as the 10th.

Badilla’s list of dead include the following: Pepe Billote of Bansalan;. Wilson Menel of Magsaysay; Ricardo Tulibas of Bansalan, Cpl. Daryl Potestas, the bus driver known as Lu; three unidentifed males and one female. The tenth was Antelino.

The Bansalan police reported that while the bus was moving out of the public market and cruising along Viacrucis St. just a few meters away from a Petron gasoline station, an account executive of a corporation based in Davao City approached bus conductor Antelino to check the bag left by a male passenger, about 30-35 years old, who was seated next to him.  The black bag with IED inside was placed under the suspected bomber’s seat.

Antelino took the bag and saw a plastic container of a cooking oil brand loaded with what he described as sand, the account executive said.

Because it was heavy, the conductor suspected it was a bomb so he carried and placed it outside the bus where it exploded. Most of the victims were not bus passengers, Red Cross volunteers said.

An Army corporal named Daryl Potestas, according to his colleague, helped the conductor carry the bag out. Potestas was also killed.

The explosion was so powerful that it rocked the area, said Butch Albutra, a businessman whose store is 25 meters from the bomb site.

On June 1, the US Embassy in Manila issued a travel advisory warning US citizens in the country from traveling to areas in Mindanao, especially North Cotabato towns due to threats on kidnappings and bombings.  (Malu Cadelina-Manar/MindaNews)