P500k bounty up for arrest of suspects in Cotabato City blast

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 05 January) — The Cotabato City local government unit offered a P500,000 reward for anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest of the two suspects in the New Year’s Eve blast in Cotabato City that killed two persons and wounded 34 others.

Chief Supt. Eliseo Rasco, Police Regional Office-12 director, disclosed this on Saturday as the police released photographs of the two suspects extracted from the closed circuit television camera of the South Seas Mall.

The improvised bomb exploded on the sidewalk fronting the mall entrance where vendors were selling New Year party horns.

SOCO personnel examine the blast site outside the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City. Photo courtesy of Division Public Affairs Office, 6th Infantry Division

The lethal explosion occurred three weeks before the plebiscite for the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for theBangsamoro Automous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) on January 21 in the proposed core territory.

The Commission on Elections also set February 6 for voters in Lanao del Norte, six towns in North Cotabato and other areas that petition for inclusion in the future BARMM.

Once ratified, the BARMM will replace the 28-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The creation of the new Bangsamoro region is the key component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.

The police revealed the bounty and the pictures of the suspects as Cabinet secretaries and top military and police officials appealed for sobriety regarding the Cotabato City blast.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. and top military and police commanders met with local officials in Cotabato City on Thursday to assure the city of a peaceful conduct of the upcoming plebiscite.

A report from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said Lorenzana went to Cotabato City to “prevent speculation and “finger-pointing” in the bomb attack.

“We are here to defuse the tensions and we don’t want to escalate the conflict,” Lorenzana said.

Among those who attended the dialogue were Cotabato Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, Maguindanao 1st district and Cotabato City Rep. Bai Sandra Sema and Sammy Gambar Al-Mansoor, Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Lorenzana said a presentation made during the security briefing led by 6th Infantry Division commander Maj. General Cirilito Sobejana suggests the bombing had the signature of a local terror group.

“Until we get to the bottom of this, we consider this incident a terror attack,” he said, adding the initial investigation “points to the Daulah Islamiyah terror group.”

The Defense Chief said their intention in going to Cotabato City was to ensure the people “to have a free and peaceful elections and plebiscites.”

“Rest assured that your military and police are doing their best to ensure that you can vote freely according to your choice,” he said.

Lorenzana also called on the people to weigh the benefits of the BOL.

Meanwhile, in the same OPAPP report, Galvez and Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega asked the leaders to stay calm following the attack.

“We can’t win peace by force, but by persuasive diplomacy and understanding,” Galvez said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)