Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) inspect the Newman Goldliner Bus that exploded at the northbound lane of EDSA near Buendia, January 25, 2011. (MMDA photo)
MANILA, Philippines (9th UPDATE) – Four people were killed and 14 others were injured in an explosion that ripped through a passenger bus along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Makati City on Tuesday afternoon.
Director Nicanor Bartolome, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief, said that the fatalities include 3 males and a female passenger of Newman Goldliner bus with plate number TXJ 710.
Six of the victims have been identified.
Four of the injured are Anabel Gozon, Antonio Lino, Jeffrey Victoriano, and Mary Grace Borondia.
Johanson Delos Reyes and Marino Salustino, meanwhile, were 2 of the 4 fatalities.
Bartolome said the injured victims include 9 females and 5 males. The victims were rushed to the Ospital ng Makati and St. Luke's Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City.
Bartolome declined to name the other victims as their next of kin have yet to be informed.
The bus was at the north-bound loading bay of EDSA corner Buendia when it was hit by a strong explosion at around 2 p.m..
Bartolome said he has organized a special investigation task force to look into the bus explosion. He added that the city government has also formed a crisis management committee.
He said investigators are now reviewing footage of closed-circuit television cameras installed along EDSA.
Bartolome said investigators have yet to determine what type of explosive material was used. He said the police's immediate concern is to swiftly gather evidence, including parts of the bomb and parts of the bus' body, so they can remove the bus from EDSA.
He said the bus will be moved to the Southern Police District headquarters for further forensic investigation.
Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay Jr. said earlier, based on initial briefing given to him by the police, there is a strong indication that the explosion was caused by a bomb.
Binay said that when he arrived at the scene, he saw blood and some body parts inside the bus. He said he also saw a severely injured man through the big hole created by the blast on the passenger bus.
“Marami nang ambulansya, marami nang pulis. Nagkalat na dugo sa loob at labas ng bus, mga buto na nakalat, mga parte ng katawan , doon sa siwang na gawa, yung malaking butas, iyung gawa nung bomba. Merong isang lalaking nakahilata dun, naghihingalo. Nakasuot sya ng itim, medyo iba na kulay nya, pero buhay pa nung dumating ako,” he said.
The mayor said a man and a woman were initially killed by the blast.
His father, Vice-President Jejomar Binay, said the blast was powerful. “Iyung putok, malakas talaga. Iyung putok, umabot dun sa pader, malaki. Malakas, malakas talaga.”
Bartolome said the explosive device was planted under a seat on the 6th row of the bus' right side.
"Gitnang-gitna ito eh. Sa ilalim siya malamang inilagay," he said.
Bartolome said the location of the explosion indicates that the people who planted the bomb wanted a lot of people hurt.
Footage taken by ABS-CBN News showed a huge hole created by the explosion on the right side of the bus. Windows on the left side of the bus and its windshield were also damaged.
Metro on full alert
He said police investigators are interviewing the surviving passengers, as well as the driver and conductor of the bus.
Police closed the affected north-bound lane of EDSA-Buendia. The Ayala flyover going to Cubao area was also closed for several hours. Other parts of EDSA remained open.
Bartolome announced over government-owned radio station Radyo ng Bayan that he has placed all police units in Metro Manila on full alert.
He said he has ordered all vital government installations around Metro Manila and public places secured by cops.
“We would like to ensure that all our policemen will be available and that vital installations will be properly secured,” he said.
He added: “We encourage everyone to go on with their normal schedules. The PNP [Philippine National Police], the government, the local government in Makati, and other law enforcement agencies will continue to get to the bottom of this incident.”
Smell of gunpowder
In an interview with reporters at the Makati City Police Station, bus driver Maximo Peligro said he smelled gunpowder right after the blast.
"Kung normal na explosion yun, walang amoy na pulibura (If it was a normal explosion, there would be no smell of gunpowder)," Peligro said.
Peligro said it was impossible that mechanical failure caused the explosion since the bus was well-maintained. "If it wasn't well maintained, we would have kept it in the garage," he said.
He added that the bus' engine is at the back of the bus, not in the middle. The blast caused a big hole near the middle of the bus, and police said the explosive device was placed in the bus' 6th row.
Peligro also discounted possibilities that the attack on the bus was done by enemies of the bus company's owner.
"Pentecostal kami. Nagde-debosyon kami (We are members of Pentecostal church. We have devotions [before we leave the terminal]," he said.
He said Newman Goldliner bus is owned by pastors of the Pentecostal Mission Church of Christ.
Many passengers got off before blast
Based on an ABS-CBN News interview with the bus conductor, 25-year-old Michael Jaralve, there were at least 30 passengers on the bus when the blast happened.
According to Jaralve, the bus came from Baclaran in Parañaque City and was bound for SM mall in Fairview, Quezon City.
Jaralve said they had 20 passengers when they left Baclaran, and it became almost full when they stopped at a loading bay in Evangelista area in Pasay City.
Almost half of the passengers disembarked at EDSA Ayala.
The driver and the conductor said the explosion happened before they reached Buendia corner EDSA.
They said they could not immediately recall the passengers who may have planted the bus. They said 7 people entered the bus at Taft area and 2 of them got off before they reached Buendia.
Jaralve said he saw 2 suspicious looking passengers just before the blast.
He said he was collecting fares from passengers when the explosion occurred.
Jaralve was injured on both of his legs by the blast, while bus driver Peligro was unscathed.
The bus driver also told reporters that some of the passengers were injured because they all panicked after the explosion.
Peligro said that the bus' windshield was not damaged by the explosion. He said he kicked open the windshield, and majority of the surviving passengers exited the bus through it.
Victims brought to hospitals
The blast victims were brought to various hospitals in Makati City.
Doctors were trying to revive 2 of the victims, who have yet to be identified.
One of the critical victims has a serious head injury, while another was hit by bomb fragments in the lower part of the body.
The bodies of 2 fatalities, a man and a woman, were brought to the Ospital ng Makati along Malugay Street.
The remains of another dead victim was brought to the Ospital ng Makati’s branch in Pembo.
Doctors said the female victim’s body was torn in half because of the explosion.
Investigators have arrived at the hospital to take statements of survivors and examine the bodies of the fatalities.
One survivor, Anabelle Gozon, was released from the hospital after receiving treatment.
"May sumabog sa hulihan, umusok. Nagsigawan kami, unahan kami sa pintuan,” she said. “Sabi ko sirain niyo na pintuan. Sobrang pasalamat ko, sa bintanang dinaanan ko patay na yung iba, ako heto, buhay pa." - Reports from Jorge Cariño, Maan Macapagal, and Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News; Pinky Webb, ANC; Dexter Ganibe and Charlie Mendoza, radio dzMM