KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/23 October) – North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talinio-Mendoza has offered a P100,000 reward for anyone who could help authorities identify the three men who reportedly left a bag with an improvised explosive device (IED) that went off inside a passenger bus along the highway in Matalam town on Thursday morning.
Citing initial police reports, Mendoza said there were three unidentified men who boarded Rural Transit Bus with body number 2284 along the highway in Kabacan, also in North Cotabato, at around 945 a.m. and disembarked upon reaching the poblacion in Matalam town.
After a meeting with officials from the regional police, Police Director General Raul Bacalzo ordered a thorough probe of the incident and assigned Supt. Alex Tagum, chief of the Cotabato Public Safety Company, to head Task Force Rural Transit Bus.
Authorities have considered three angles in the blast.
Bacalzo said that although nothing is definite as yet in their post-blast investigations, they considered extortion, terrorism, or retaliation of the arrest of an official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at the airport in Davao City last month.
“We do not want to speculate. All angles are being considered. Also, we don’t want to issue a definitive statement as of this time,” Bacalzo told reporters here.
“If we retaliate, we will not hit the innocent. That is cowardice, besides an evil act,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said.
Iqbal said there are many possible angles to consider such as “extortion, business rivalry, plain terrorism or scenario-making?”
Bacalzo said he ordered operatives from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to do cartographic sketches of the blast suspects.
He said both the police and the Rural Transit management had committed security lapses.
The bus driver told radio station DXND that they picked up passengers along the highway in their desire to earn more.
Buses plying the highway in North Cotabato, Davao, and Sultan Kudarat have been subjected to bombings, extortions, and other harassments.
“After every bus explosion, the management and security personnel start employing safety measures, including baggage inspection and passengers’ check. But a few months later, when everything returns to normal, they start to be lax again,” he said.
Based on the fragments collected at the blast site by the Explosives and Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team of the Philippine Army, the IED that exploded inside the bus was reportedly fashioned from an 81-mm mortar attached to a triggering device. Experts have yet no idea on the component of the bomb.
“This is why we have a second round of investigation. That’s why we are protecting the blast site,” Bacalzo said. (Malu Cadelina-Manar/MindaNews)