For justice to bomb victims, Duterte pins hope on resumption of peace talks

Sixteen were killed and 55 others were injured in the bombing of Davao's Sasa Wharf on April 2, 2003 barely a month after another bombed exploded in the Davao International airport that killed 22 persons and wounded 145 others.

At the anniversary rites today, 48 victims and relatives of those who died lit candles, prayed, and relived their painful memories of the incident in media interviews.

Duterte, who led the solemn rites, said justice is not elusive as some of the suspects were captured.

But Duterte admitted the painful experience will never be forgotten.

"I hope something good will come out of the peace talks," the mayor said adding there will be no closure on the pain of the bombings unless justice is served.

He said once the suspects are held and convicted there might be legal closure. "But there will be no closure on the pain suffered by people," he said.

Duterte had blamed the MILF for the seaport and the airport bombings and urged the filing of cases against its leaders. Complaints of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder were filed against top MILF officials led by then chair Salamat Hashim.

Four months later, the enforcement of their arrest warrants was ordered suspended and a new preliminary investigation was ordered to be conducted by the Department of Justice in Metro Manila.

Porters, vendors, passengers, and bystanders in the tragic incident told different angles of the story that night. 

Aurelia Espera, who lost two children, Mark Gabriel and Gadelyn, her mother in-law, two relatives and a house help, could not help but shed tears the moment she was asked if she could be interviewed.

The Esperas ran a fastfood store where the bomb was left by the suspects. She was spared when she turned her back from the table to place used dishes in the pantry. But she was seriously injured in the blast, too.

She told MindaNews pain never left her family since the bombing. "Our only message is for justice to reign, her husband said as he asked the media not to pursue the interview.

Espera said justice has evaded them as they have never received updates on the status of the cases filed against suspects.

Lilia Tiongco, 40, another vendor did not realize she was hit by splinters when she heard the blast. She said pain is still there everyday. She said she was grateful she was spared as she considers every anniversary her second birthday.

Lilia recounted how neighbors came to their house supposedly for her wake as she was initially placed in the list of those who died. 

"Up to now I could still feel the shock. I was only able to come vend again a year after the bombing" she said.

In every anniversary, Lilia said she prays for their safety and for those who died.

"May we be spared from another incident. I pray it will never happen again," she said.

Dario Nakilan, 47, a porter assailed the fact that most of the victims of the bombing were poor people like him.

He said he would like to appeal to the bombers if they are still at large so that no bombing will happen again.

"I hope you will have mercy on us. Why will you kill us when we are only here to earn a living?" he said in the vernacular.

He said they have never recovered emotionally and economically from the tragedy.

Nakilan said aside from the painful experience of seeing people you know in bits and pieces, we have also lost our livelihood as passenger traffic dwindled in the aftermath of the bombings.

He said being poor they did not have the luxury of choice. "Even if we were afraid and in agony, we still have to beat it with courage in the hope we can go on living," he said.

Clarita Yapoc, 49, another vendor said her 11 wounds in different parts of her body has hindered her from returning to work since.

She said she and her 10 children have relied on the income of her husband who is a porter in the wharf.

She said most of the vendors are either wives or relatives of the porters. "So the pain was really suffered not only by us, but by our families," she said.

Duterte said with the resumption of the peace talks there is hope that the bombings that occurred in 2003 will not happen again.

Asked if he is still blaming the MILF for the bombing, he said he has already made his statement about it in the past.

Days after the incident in 2003, Duterte said "it would not be entirely correct to say that the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) did it but it would not be wrong to say the MILF knows something."

MindaNews reported in 2003 that Duterte linked the MILF to the Special Urban Terrorist Action Group (SUTAG) of the "Al-Qaeda network" as behind the March 4 Davao airport and likely the April 2 Sasa wharf bombing.

He said the SUTAG, a special operations group, does not take orders from the MILF Central Committee but works separately, although it has "embedded" members in the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the military arm of the MILF.

He said this is the reason why he has been repeatedly asking the MILF to surrender the bombers.

Duterte said the war is "against SUTAG. Not all, though, just the criminals who are responsible. If the (MILF) can arrange for their surrender, I will stop (insisting). But I will see to it that justice is done until my retirement."  

The MILF denied they have a "SUTAG."

Hours after the blast in March 2003, Duterte told a press conference, “Justice will be done as sure as the sun will rise. We will see to it that the guilty will be arrested and punished.”

At the candle-lighting rites at the bombed waiting shed of the Davao International Airport during the fourth anniversary of the bombing there on April 4 this year, MindaNews reminded Duterte about his vow to bring the perpetrators to justice.

But I could only do so much,” he told MindaNews.

That is why we are renewing our commitment to fight terrorism in all fronts. ….” He said then, adding, the absence of an anti-terror law has adversely affected the quest for justice for the victims of the bombings. The anti-terror law was passed a week later.