Extortionists behind bus bombings

In a letter, a group identifying itself as Al-Qubar, told Bernardo ‘Digoy’ Valdeviezo, Jr., one of the owners of Peoples’ Transport, that the recent attacks against the company were executed to show the government their group “is a force to reckon with.”

Chief Supt. Romeo Gatan, deputy chief of the Police Regional Office No, 12 based in General Santos City, said the group is notorious in extorting money from big business establishments in the region, including Peoples’ Transport.

The group’s base is somewhere in Maguindanao and its operations include North Cotabato and nearby provinces in the region, reports from the police intelligence said.  

Gatan alleged the extortionists are linked with a local terror group but he didn’t name the group.

Gatan met with the management of the Peoples’ Transport Corporation (formerly Weena Bus Company) last Monday in the region’s police headquarters in General Santos City to discuss measures to prevent similar bomb attacks in the future.

Gatan said the management has acceded to their request to beef up its security control.  

The bus company, which has been receiving extortion letters and bomb threats from the same group, has been the subject of bomb attacks and other harassments since 2000, the latest of which was Friday’s bomb explosion just outside the Davao City-bound bus in Bansalan, that killed its driver and bus conductor and eight others on June 15.

Since Monday, police and security guards employed by the company conducted tight security check of passengers and their baggage before allowing them to board the buses.

Drivers and conductors were also given strict orders not to pick up passengers along the highway.  

“Though these measures would mean loss of income on the part of the bus company, yet they’re taking the risks,” said Gatan.

The security measures, he said, will remain as long as the threats are there, said Gatan.    

The police, however, admitted they can’t sustain the deployment of policemen as bus marshals.

Insp. Joyce Birrey, spokesperson for the North Cotabato Provincial Police Office, said they have limited number of personnel. The police, with only 70 active personnel, are protecting the province which has a population of about 1.3 million.

“With very limited number of personnel, it’s so difficult to deploy one police personnel  to every 500 people, which is an ideal ratio.  As of today, we are deploying  one  for every 1,354 persons in the whole province,” Birrey said. (Malu Cadelina-Manar/MindaNews)