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Mindanao under siege

By Francisco Tuyay | Aug. 08, 2013 at 12:01am
Region currently reels under ‘triple whammy’: bombings, floods, blackouts

SIX blasts, including one that injured seven government troopers, rocked separate towns in Central Mindanao on Wednesday, two days after a powerful bomb placed inside a multicab van killed eight persons and injured 40 others in Cotabato City.

Blast aftermath. Investigators look for evidence among the wreckage after a car bomb explosion in Cotabato City on Aug. 5 killed eight people. AFP Blast aftermath. Investigators look for evidence among the wreckage after a car bomb explosion in Cotabato City on Aug. 5 killed eight people. AFP

The blasts occurred even as fierce fighting erupted anew between the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and army troopers in Bgy. Mamundas, Masasapano, Maguindanao by late afternoon.

The series of explosions has alarmed local officials, Mindanao lawmakers and national leaders, who complain about the “very slow response” in addressing the “triple whammy” that has put Mindanao practically under siege -- bombings, floods and blackouts.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a party whip of the United Nationalist Alliance belonging to the majority coalition, said the bombings, blackouts and flooding resulted in three national conventions slated to be hosted this year by Mindanao having been cancelled.

He said Mindanao is already “hurting” since the government has yet to solve the bombing that hit Cagayan de Oro in October 2012 that killed two people when the second bombing last month occurred, killing six more.

“This year alone, several bombings had hit Mindanao and the Cotabato bombing came after the Lim Ket Kai bombing in Cagayan de Oro. We don’t deserve a third bombing in Cagayan de Oro and the business sector and the people are already hurting and cannot move on because of these series of natural and manmade disasters,” Rodriguez said.

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat, also a member of the 52-strong Mindanao Legislators’ Committee, said he was hoping that authorities immediately bring the perpetrators of the bombings to justice.

“We want the perpetrators, identified, captured and prosecuted,” said Lobregat.            Rodriguez said the authorities acted fast when Cagayan de Oro was hit by Sendong. Relief and rehabilitation operations and the construction of housing was fast, primarily because the disaster merited an outside help from Filipinos abroad and the international community.

He said he could not say the same thing for Pablo victims in Davao Oriental, which continues to reel from the devastation.

He blamed the Department of Energy from not doing anything that could fast track the resolution of the power crisis.

“We even had a Mindanao Energy Summit that was convened by President Aquino in April 2011 but since then, the crisis remains unresolved and Mindanao businessmen had been incurring losses. We want to cut down losses, too, and move on by creating more jobs to remedy the high poverty incidence in Mindanao. So the Mindanao bloc will meet to make a stand to compel the government agencies and authorities to do their jobs,” he said.

In Manila, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said affected areas in Mindanao should receive national aid in the form releases from the P7.5 billion Calamity Fund, which, he said, could also help finance the relief and rehabilitation activities  in places hit by armed conflict, insurgency and terrorism, Recto said.

“In fact, the Calamity Fund can be used for disaster prevention activities,” Recto explained.  “So if provinces would like to buttress their security as a reaction to a clear and present danger against them, then they can qualify for Calamity Fund assistance.”

Recto appealed for the urgent release of calamity funds to Mindanao provinces grappling with the problem of terror and rising waters.

Quoting official reports, Recto said 500,000 people have been affected by flooding in at least  six province. In Maguindanao, 300,000 residents have been displaced as rivers overflowed  from weeks of  torrential rain while 26 submerged barangays in Cotabato City  have forced 100,000 people out their homes.

North Cotabato is also reeling from floods, with the town of Tulunan the  hardest hit.  Davao Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Saranggani and Zamobanga Norte have also reported flood damage.

Recto said the national government should speed up the release of the funds that will help these provinces fight two calamities at the same time.

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, urged authorities “not to discount the possibility that the [blasts] are all linked together.”

“Sa nakikita ko, hindi na ito isolated incidents. Kaya ako nagtanong: Are these confined to Mindanao? Darating ba ito sa Kamaynilaan?” Enrile said in a separate briefing after the probe.

A former defense minister, Enrile said authorities should closely examine if the methods of the bombers are the same, and if the perpetrators are similar areas.

Meanwhile, reports said that the first explosion happened before dawn in front of a pawnshop in Midsayap town in Cotabato province.  No one was reported injured.

The second blast happened along the road in a remote town of Shariff saydona, Mustapha in Maguindanao province.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the roadside bomb was set off by suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters at around 9:35 a.m.

The wounded soldiers, who are members of the 12th company of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade stationed in Shariff Aguak town,  are now being treated at the Maguindanao provincial hospital.

Hermoso said the bomb was set off as a convoy of military truck and one V-150 armored personnel carrier was passing by.

No one has claimed responsibility but Hermoso said the roadside bomb attack has the “signatures” of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) which had publicly announced it will continue guerilla attacks against government forces.

Hours later, four other bombings were reported in the towns of Matalan and Kidapawan, North Cotabato and Masasapano and Datu Piang in Maguindanao, although like the first blast, there were no immediate reports of casualties from the explosions.

Police and military forces were immediately mobilized to investigate the incidents.

In Datu Piang, police director Sr. Supt Reodelio Jocson said the blasts took place underneath a bridge in Brgy. Lintukan near a military detachment at around 5 p.m. With Christine Herrera, Florante Solmerin and AFP
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