Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Zambo Bombing Kills 2, Wounds 23

PAGADIAN CITY—A bomb went off in a building across from Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City at around 10 a.m. Thursday, just as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was on her way to Tawi-Tawi province and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney was visiting this city in Zamboanga del Sur province.

City information officer Shiela Covarrubias said a man and a woman were confirmed dead and 23 others injured in the explosion that ripped through the first floor of the Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association (AMWSLAI) building in Barangay Sta. Maria. The building houses the offices of the Alliance for Mindanao Off-Grid Renewable Energy (AMORE) and of Zamboanga Rep. Ma. Isabel Climaco.

Police authorities linked Moro rebels to the bomb attack and announced that a man had been arrested. The man’s identity was withheld.

Covarrubias identified those killed as Eduardo Taliti of Cabatangan District in Zamboanga City and Ayesha Bosniot of Margosatubig, Zamboanga del Sur.

Among those hurt were two members of Climaco’s staff and four AMORE engineers, all Filipinos.

The others were civilian relatives of soldiers waiting in front of the AMWSLAI building to hitch a ride on a Manila-bound Air Force C-130 cargo plane that was to take off from the base, Col. Darwin Guerra, commander of Task Force Zamboanga, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Manila by phone. He belied reports that there were three fatalities.

He said one of the wounded has been confined to the intensive care unit of a local hospital.

Despite the bomb attack, Ms Arroyo pushed ahead with her trip to Bongao town in Tawi-Tawi, where she launched a modified “mariculture” development project, visited a school, witnessed the repacking of rice for the Food for School program, and led the groundbreaking of the Tawi-Tawi bridge road partnership project.

When informed of the bomb attack, Kenney said: “We are horror-stricken.” She was attending an activity of the AMORE, a solar power project that was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), in Tigbao, Zamboanga del Sur.

“It’s horrifying that anyone would do this. It’s appalling, and I hope law enforcement agencies find those responsible, hold them, and subject them to the rule of law.”

The ambassador said it was ironic that “our colleagues injured are the very ones who worked on this project in AMORE.”

She added: “The very moment we’re seeing the fruits of their labor, they are in the hospital. It’s very tragic. I feel devastated. These are friends and colleagues. I visit Zamboanga City often; I feel like I know half the city.

Condemnable act

“It’s hard not to take it personally when people you love are involved.”

Kenney, however, said the attack on the building that housed the AMORE office would “definitely” not deter the US government from pursuing its development programs in Southern Philippines.

“We strongly condemn this act, and authorities are now investigating it,” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in Malacañang.

Chief Supt. Jaime Caringal, Western Mindanao police director, described the bomb as “an improvised explosive (device) with a cellular phone as triggering device.”

It was wrapped in a package that was placed near the AMWSLAI office and was apparently concealed in one of several bags of the civilian commuters, Caringal said.

“It was manually operated by the bomber and exploded at 10 a.m.,” he told the Inquirer.

Caringal said nobody had claimed responsibility for the powerful blast, which also damaged three parked cars.

Guerra also said the attack was an “act of terrorism.”

Earlier in the day, Senior Supt. Lurimer Detran, acting police chief of Zamboanga City, was mum when asked if the attack had something to do with the visits of Ms Arroyo and the American envoy.

Detran said police investigators were still trying to determine the explosive used and the motive behind the attack. He said two children were among the injured.

Last month, the US and Australian governments issued an advisory warning its citizens against traveling to Mindanao, particularly the Zamboanga peninsula.

Not Abu Sayyaf

Investigators were looking at the possibility that Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants were involved in the attack. The militants have clashed in recent days with Philippine marines on nearby Basilan island-province.

"One possibility is that this is an Abu Sayyaf diversionary attack or a retaliation," Caringal said.

The Abu Sayyaf has targeted Zamboanga city, a predominantly Roman Catholic trading city, in the past. They were blamed by military and police authorities for two nearly simultaneous bombings that damaged a cathedral and a commercial building last April.

US troops have been helping the Philippine military in the campaign to stamp out the Abu Sayyaf, which is on the US government’s list of terror organizations.

But Caringal said police investigators were “looking at the Special Operations Group of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) as being responsible for this blast.”

Caringal said the heavy losses suffered by the MILF in Basilan during this week’s skirmishes with Marines might have been the reason for the attack.

He said the man arrested in connection with the explosion was being questioned.

The MILF, which is engaged in peace talks with the government, has repeatedly denied the existence of a Special Operations Group. It has also accused the military and the police of derailing the peace negotiations.

Congresswoman Climaco described the explosion as “very powerful.”

“The first floor [of the AMWSLAI building], the main wing that houses the AMORE office, was really wrecked, with all the walls torn down. My office was also damaged, but not the same as the AMORE office,” Climaco told the Inquirer.

No damage to base

“We are saddened by this blast, especially because those hurt were innocent people, civilians, and we still don’t have an idea about the motive and reason,” she said.

"The blast was so powerful I fell to the floor from my seat in the office," Voltaire Mahatol, one of Climaco’s injured employees, told The Associated Press by telephone.

On the phone with the Inquirer in Manila, Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog, commanding general of the Philippine Air Force, said the explosion caused no damage to Edwin Andrews Air Base.

“The entire air base is safe,” he said, adding that the area had been put under tight security according to standard operating procedures.

Cadungog belied reports that Ms Arroyo was to have used the air base in flying to Tawi-Tawi.

“Whoever said that gave an irresponsible statement. Why would the President use the air base when her aircraft can go straight to Tawi-Tawi?” he said.

Cadungog said a C-130 and a Fokker F-27 were only on standby at the air base, waiting to pick up Ms Arroyo’s party, particularly members of the Presidential Security Group.

Briefing reporters in Manila, Chief Supt. Nicanor Bartolome said the Philippine National Police in Western Mindanao had been put on heightened alert as a result of the explosion.

Bartolome refused to disclose details on the explosive device.

“All possible motives are being explored. Let’s give our investigators some time,” the PNP spokesperson said. (Nikko Dizon, Christine O. Avendaño and Alcuin Papa, INQ.net)

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