COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/12 December) – Who’s behind Tuesday’s bombing inside a passenger bus in Maramag, Bukidnon?
Less than 24 hours after the blast that killed 10 persons, five of them students of the Central Mindanao University, and injured 42 others, newspaper and television reports quoted military officials as saying the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a Maguindanao-based armed group wanted by the military, was the perpetrator.
The BIFF, however, denied it had a hand in the bombing of Rural Transit of Mindanao, Inc. bus 2460 in Barangay Dologon, Maramag town, about a kilometer away from the CMU, even as the Eastern Mindanao Command in Davao City maintained the improvised explosive device (IED) used was a “signature bomb” of the BIFF, fashioned from an 81-mm mortar.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama condemned the attack. He said they only knew of the incident when a Bukidnon-based broadcaster reached him for comment on the military’s claims that his group carried out the bombing.
In a telephone interview, Mama instead blamed the military.
“We cannot even pass Army checkpoints because most of our members are wanted, how could we bring bomb in that area? It should be investigated properly,” Mama told MindaNews.
Mama recalled that former Navy Lieutenant Senior Grade and now Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who led the Oakwood Mutiny on July 27, 2003 to demand reforms in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, had alleged then that the military was involved in a spate of bombings in parts of Mindanao which were blamed on anti-government forces.
The BIFF claimed it has forces in Lanao Del Sur and Bukidnon but Mama said attacking non-combatants is not part of their plan.
The BIFF is a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It was founded around March 2010 by Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato, three months after he tendered his resignation as commander of the 105th Base Command of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).
The MILF has signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on March 27, 2014 and is now awaiting the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress.
In Bukidnon, Inspector Joselle Longakit, information officer of the Bukidnon Police, confirmed to radio station dxDB-Malaybalay on Thursday morning that the bomb was fashioned out of an 81mm mortar with a mobile phone as detonator.
Longakit said that aside from extortion, they have not ruled out terrorism as the possible motive.
She said they already have a lead but refused to provide details citing the need for confidentiality as the investigation was still ongoing.
She added they will release the identities of the suspects only after the filing of charges against them.
In Davao City, Lt. Col. Jake Obligado, acting spokesperson of the EastMinCom, told MindaNews on Friday morning that the basis for pointing to the BIFF as suspects was “the signature of previous bombings.”
Obligado quickly added: “But we said that we are not discounting other possibilities of either business rivalry related or extortion.”
“Other groups being eyed are the Al Khobar group and Abdul Basit Usman’s group,” Obligado said, adding Usman is “a former member of BIFF who has broken away and formed his owned group.”
A Philippine Star report datelined North Cotabato said on Friday morning that the Al Khobar, a group engaged in extortion, “had been implicated in more than 20 bus bombings in the adjoining Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and South Cotabato provinces between 2003 and 2013.”
Obligado cited four other bombing incidents that allegedly bore the BIFF “signature”:
- the November 6 blast at 12:30 noon involving the same bus company, RTMI, also in Dologon, Maramag, Bukidnon, coming from Tacurong in Sultan Kudarat province, injuring 4 of the passengers;
- the November 16 blast at an overpass in front of the Pilot School in Kabacan, North Cotabato, at 6:50 pm., killing a woman and wounding several passengers;
- the November 20 blast along Sinsuat Avenue corner Gen. Luna St. in front of Malibacao Petron, Cotabato City at 6 p.m.; and
- the November 23 blast at the Public Plaza of M’lang, North Cotabato at 7:45 p.m., killing two persons and injuring several others.
RTMI plies the Cagayan de Oro City-General Santos City route via Bukidnon, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato. It also services the Cagayan de Oro-Banisilan (North Cotabato) route via Bukidnon and Wao, Lanao Sur. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera with reports from H. Marcos C. Mordeno in Bukidnon and Carolyn O. Arguillas in Davao City)