COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Last Monday's car bomb explosion was not the first in Central Mindanao history.
Muslim and Christian communities first witnessed how destructive a car bomb could be when suspected Islamic extremists set one off at the Cotabato airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao in February 2003.
Though unsolved, the bombing, which injured more than 20 people, was in apparent retaliation for the military’s takeover of Buliok complex. The complex, located at the boundary of Pikit, North Cotabato and Maguindanao’s Pagalungan town used to be a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The liberation of Buliok from MILF control in 2003 forced the MILF’s founder, the late Salamat Hashim, to vacate his residence in the area and relocate to Butig, Lanao del Sur.
The bombers used a multicab vehicle in the 2003 bombing of Cotabato Airport.
The vehicle, which was loaded with more than a dozen mortar projectiles, was parked beside an eatery and was set off from a distance using a mobile phone.
So powerful was the blast that it shattered the glass panes of the airport’s terminal building, destroyed the ceiling, and triggered a fire that razed commercial establishments near where the car bomb went off.
Another car bomb explosion rocked Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao on June 25, 2005, which left eight people dead and injured 16 others.
The Shariff Aguak bombing apparently targeted a convoy led by then Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Ampatuan, who was in a bulletproof vehicle, survived the attack, but eight others riding in separate vehicles were killed in the explosion.
A multicab laden with mortar projectiles rigged with an improvised blasting device was parked along the highway where Ampatuan’s convoy passed.
An irate Ampatuan, who maintained a 700-member heavily armed private militia, was quick to retaliate on MILF forces encamped near his farm in Bagong district in Shariff Aguak, provoking a series of encounters that waned only when government forces intervened.
Ampatuan’s eldest and favorite son Saudi and 17 companions were killed on Dec. 23, 2002 when a home-made explosive, rigged inside a tricycle parked along a road at the town proper of Datu Piang, exploded just as they were passing by on foot, two blocks from where they attended a traditional prayer rite for a relative who died two days earlier.
There have been more than a dozen deadly bombings in Central Mindanao where perpetrators used bomb-laden motorcycles, concealing explosives inside empty fuel tanks or underneath seats.
Monday’s explosion, also using a multicab, along Sinsuat Avenue here was preceded by last year’s roadside bombing, also involving a car bomb in Tacurong City.
The bomb targeted a convoy carrying provincial officials led by Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.
A bystander and a member of the provincial board, Russman Sinsuat, were killed in the incident while his son Junior, a member of the provincial board, lost a leg.
All of the bombings that came before Monday’s explosion remain unsolved.