Police eye extortion in GenSan blast

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/26 July) – Police are eyeing extortion as the motive behind the attack on a sports utility vehicle (SUV) on Tuesday night here that left a person injured.

Chief Supt. Alex Paul Monteagudo, Region 12 police director, said Thursday that a certain group had been trying to extort money from the owner of the Isuzu Crosswind SUV that figured in the blast in front of the Sarangani Merchandising II hardware store along Papaya Street.

The vehicle was registered to local businessman Luis Tan, who also owns the hardware store.

“Our initial investigation points to an extortion attempt on the owner of the store. But this is not yet conclusive and we’re still looking into several other angles,” the police official told reporters.

“It’s too early to make a conclusion at this time. We have to wait first for the result of the [final] investigation,” he added.

Tan initially denied having received any threat or extortion demands prior to the incident but later admitted that there were indirect extortion attempts on his establishment recently.

The businessman said they did not pay much attention to them nor thought the perpetrators were serious.

The blast, which occurred at around 8 p.m., triggered a huge fire that totally burned the vehicle. It caused the vehicle’s fuel to spread towards other nearby vehicles but was immediately contained by responding elements from the Bureau of Fire Protection.

Store employees and bystanders said they initially heard a loud explosion coming from within the vehicle before it was engulfed by flames.

A tricycle driver identified as Alfredo Sanchez, who was just driving by the area when the explosion came, sustained several injuries after he was hit by debris coming from the vehicle.

Monteagudo said they have created a special investigation task group that will spearhead the probe and other operations related to the case.

He designated Senior Supt. Robert Kiunisala, Region 12 police deputy director for operations, to lead the task group.

Monteagudo  said the task group is currently looking into reports from several witnesses that two motorcyle-riding persons were seen dropping something at the rear portion of the vehicle before the explosion happened.

He said a closed-circuit television or CCTV camera installed at the establishment captured a scene showing two suspects throwing a possible incendiary explosive device at the vehicle.

Monteagudo said the investigation team, along with the scene of the crime operatives and crime laboratory personnel, conducted a thorough processing of the explosion site and are now evaluating some of the pieces of evidences that they gathered.

“As of now, we can’t yet say what the exact design and composition of the explosive. But we’re initially looking into an incendiary device – one that is designed to create fire,” he said.

On Wednesday, Monteagudo and members of the task group met with city officials led by Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio to discuss the details and the necessary security measures as a result of the incident.

Custodio assured the local government’s cooperation and all-out support in all matters related with the investigation and operations against those behind the blast.

“We’re confident with the capability of the PNP (Philippine National Police) to resolve this issue, and make the necessary arrest of all those behind this,” the mayor said.( Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)