DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/08 August) – “Make no mistake about it: This is a desperate act by a small sector dead set against the attainment of peace in Mindanao,” President Benigno Simeon Aquino III said in his keynote address before the 22nd Mindanao Business Conference (MinBizCon) Thursday morning.
A total of 16 persons were killed and 83 others injured in at least five bombing incidents reported in 12 days in two of Mindanao’s 33 cities, two of 36 towns in Maguindanao and one of 18 towns in North Cotabato.
Eight persons were killed and 46 others were injured in the Cagayan de Oro City blast in a bistro in Rosario Arcade, Limketkai Center on July 26; eight were killed and 30 were injured along Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato City on August 5 and seven soldiers were injured in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town in Maguindanao on August 7. There were no reported casualties in the explosion of improvised bombs in Midsayap, North Cotabato and Datu Piang in Maguindanao on August 7.
The President mentioned the Cagayan de Oro bombing in his speech but not Cotabato City where Mayor Jiapal Guiani on Tuesday said the bombing was politically motivated, apparently intended for him and his sister, Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, the City Administrator. The bomb, rigged to a vehicle, exploded along Sinsuat Avenue just as Sayadi’s convoy from City Hall was passing.
“Challenges to our stability, of course, still exist. Many of you must have heard of the blast that occurred in Cagayan de Oro just last week. Incidents like this, in whichever island, in whichever province, affect the entire country; and we are one with the victims and loved ones affected by these incidents,” he said.
He spoke of how the security sector has been trying to “neutralize these elements” and reiterated his previous warnings to peace spoilers: “To those willing to partner with us for peace, we welcome you as brothers; but to those who want to challenge the authority of the State, you will feel the full brunt, depth, and might of the State’s response. You will not get in the way of the peace and the stability that will help fulfill the potential of Mindanao,” the President said in his 15-minute speech at the SMX Conference Center in Lanang.
The President did not name “these elements” in his speech but in a press conference later, said “may mga threat groups na tila nagsama-sama” (there are threat groups that apparently have come together).
He said they were looking at three “loose groups” that may have joined together in a “desperate bid” to block the peace process in Mindanao.
He said there were continuing operations against threat groups, “amongst them the ASG” (Abu Sayyaf Group), but added, “I am not at liberty to tell you all the details of the ongoing operations to neutralize or capture all of these people wanted by the law.”
The President said the security sector is looking at “all possible angles,” including a theory that the bombings were perpetrated to lessen the pressure of follow-up operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The BIFF had engaged in a series of encounters with government troops in early July.
The BIFF claimed responsibility for the ambush on August 7 in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town in Maguindanao, where seven soldiers were injured. Reports from the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said a roadside bomb exploded but Abumisry Mama, BIFF spokesperson claimed the BIFF ambushed the soldiers, firing M-79 grenade launchers.
The BIFF broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) around March 2010, three months after Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato tendered his resignation as commander of the 105th Base Command of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.
Kato suffered a stroke in November 2011.
On Wednesday, shortly before the Senate investigation on the Cagayan de Oro bombing, police in Cagayan de Oro filed multiple murder and frustrated murder charges against six members of an alleged Al-Qaeda-inspired terror group identified as Khilafa Islamiyah Mindanao, reportedly responsible for the bombing on July 26 (see related story).
The President said he was meeting with the security cluster on his return to Manila in the afternoon.
He said among those that will be discussed is the reward system for information leading to the arrest of the suspects.
He commended the coordination between the local government and the security sector in Davao City.
The President has declared August 16 a holiday in Davao City for the celebration of the annual Kadayawan Festival but Mayor Rodrigo Duterte told reporters on Wednesday that he will make the final decision on August 13.
“I am putting myself on the spot, I will decide by August 13 if we will proceed with the Kadayawan Festival. If I feel in my gut that there is really danger and will (jeopardize) human lives and property, I might just scrap the whole festival,” the mayor said in a press briefing.
The President said he will be appealing for “citizen involvement in detecting suspicious individuals in the communities.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)