Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Year 2011 opens with an explosion of violent criminality in the Philippines

According to Metro Manila police chief Director Nicanor Bartolome, at least four died and 14 more injured when an explosion ripped through a public bus plying EDSA in the City of Makati. The explosion was described to be something that may have been caused by a "big bomb" although investigators could not yet be sure whether or not this incident could be considered a terrorist attack.
The explosion occurred around 2 p.m. while the bus was approaching the loading bay near MRT Buendia railway station on Edsa's northbound lane, said Ed Garcia, radio operator at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) metrobase.

A photo provided by the MMDA showed a shattered windshield and side windows of the ill-fated bus (plate number TXJ 710). The bomb was apparently placed on the sixth row from the driver seat.

Bartolome has placed the entire Metro Manila police force on full alert status.

Earlier, in October 2010, nine people were killed and 30 injured in the province of North Cotabato when a bomb planted in an overhead compartment of a bus traveling through the town of Matalam exploded. The regional police director there, Gil Meneses was reported to have stated at the time that "Extortion was a possible motive for the attack".
Bus companies serving the Cotabato-Cagayan highway have received extortion threats from various groups, the state-run Philippine News Agency said. There have been previous attacks on buses, killing or injuring dozens. The groups Abu Sofia and the Al-Khobar, both linked to the separatist Muslim group Abu Sayyaf, were blamed for the previous attacks.

North Cotabato is near Maguindanao where the worst politically-motivated massacre of civilians occurred in November of 2009 when 57 people were gunned down in cold blood allegedly by local warlord Andal Ampatuan Jr and his men.

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III had earlier dismissed as "not based on firm intelligence" travel advisories coming from the US, Australian, British, Canadian, French and New Zealand governments stating that terrorist attacks were likely in the Philippines. The advisory of the US Government issued the 2nd of November 2010 is still on line at its Manila Embassy website and states:
The State Department warns U.S. citizens of the risks of terrorist activity in the Philippines, particularly in the southern Philippine islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could occur not only in the southern islands but also in other areas, to include Manila. Targeted sites may be public gathering places that are frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers, including American citizens. Such sites could include, but are not limited to, airports, shopping malls, conference centers and other public venues. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated April 2, 2010, to reflect continuing threats due to terrorist and insurgent activities.

Beyond terrorists, the US advisory also takes note of the activity of criminal elements that seem to be operating with impunity all over the archipelago...
Kidnap-for-ransom gangs are active throughout the Philippines and have targeted foreigners. U.S. Government employees must seek special permission for travel to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago. Travelers to these areas should remain vigilant and avoid congregating in public areas. Some foreigners who reside in or visit Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago hire their own security.

All this comes as two high profile kidnap-carjack-murder incidents in Manila and the murder of a radio anchorman in Palawan continue to make headline news.

President Aquino's statement on the recent Edsa bus explosion in Makati (translated to English from Tagalog for enhanced clarity) below:
First of all we'd like to express our condolences for those who died in this tragedy -- the explosion of a bus along EDSA -- and to those who were injured as well.

At present, we've called on all government agencies to extend assistance to all the injured. These are now taking action and are also involved in the investigation of this incident. Included among these are the police, in cooperation with our local government unit in Makati, as well as the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority). Our intelligence services are also at work and putting priority into solving this crime.

Rest assured, this crime will be solved like other incidents such as the bombing of the bar exams. Our government agencies are closely overseeing all measures to ensure the safety of the public.

In line with all this, the PNP and AFP intelligence services have been directed to review all threat assessments "with the end in view of hardening all of the areas that are considered under threat". Efforts have been on-going even before this incident such as the taking stock of all AFP and PNP equipment, specially considering incidents that involved the use of C4. Control over these consumables is being tightened.

I'd like to reiterate that your Government will not relent in its efforts to hunt down the perpetrators of this heinous crime -- one that targeted random victims and was obviously meant to strike terror in the hearts of the public. We will not allow such a frightening situation to continue.

Violent crime seems to be exploding in a society renowned for the banality of its culture of crime. Criminals, terrorists, and rebels can smell a weak Manila government a thousand miles away. It does not help that the Philippine Police smiled before the cameras as they went on to execute the most inept hostage rescue operation the world had ever seen back in August of 2010.

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