COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Was the chapel the actual target?
Barangay officials say the original target of the bombing that killed seven people in Sumisip, Basilan last Tuesday could have been the nearby chapel, but the perpetrators aborted the plan when they saw soldiers deployed in the area.
A barangay official who asked not to be identified said that members of the Army’s 64th Infantry Battalion were stationed near the chapel when the bombing occurred.
“The gazebo the bombers targeted was filled with merry-makers. It is about a hundred meters away from the chapel,” said the source.
Witnesses said two men riding a motorcycle were spotted near the chapel before the explosion.
The fatalities were identified as Rey Limbin, Elbert Gomoba, Kitarul Kaddik, Leniebel Cisneros, Lourdes Ablon, Badjon Gomoba and Therese Claire Alegarbes.
The wounded were Janice Alegarbes, Trining and Jessa Dingcong, Ronel and Samson Limben.
The gazebo the suspects bombed is owned by Manuel Cisneros, a local member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit.
Barangay Tumahubong is at the center of a 4,000-hectare rubber plantation developed in the 1960s by the multinational tire manufacturer BF Goodrich.
The company shut down operations in the 1980s when the farm was placed under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
Residents of Tumahubong were awarded parcels of land planted with rubber, which were placed under a cooperative.
Police and military forces launched yesterday manhunt operations for the suspects behind the bombing.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman said he is willing to give a reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspects in the blast at Sitio Fine Tree, in Sumisip.
Hataman, who inspected the area, said the blast was caused by a grenade and not by an improvised explosive device as reported earlier.
Hataman said the police led by Basilan provincial director Senior Superintendent Mario Dapillosa was about to complete its investigation and they were optimistic of the resolution of the case.
“There should be no let-up in the operations. Somebody must take responsibility and give justice to the victims,” he said.
Hataman said he had already discussed with the police and military officials on the possible putting up of bounty that will help speed up the arrest of the suspects and resolution of the case.
Hataman said most of the victims had just attended Mass in a nearby chapel and were having a New Year’s party in the gazebo when the explosion occurred.
The police and military investigating the case are looking into several angles, according to Hataman.
Authorities said the explosion might not be related to the previous attack in the area that was blamed on the Abu Sayyaf Group that was extorting money from villagers, who are mostly cooperative plantation workers in Tumahubong.
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad believed that the grenade attack might have been instigated by a lawless group that the police and military are still tracking down.
He, however, admitted that there had been a previous bomb threat at a nearby plaza and that the military had tightened security in the area.
He said that all Catholic churches in the province had long been receiving bomb threats and he praised the military for doing its best to secure the churches, its priests and the parishioners.
“We are grateful to the military. They are doing a good job and they sacrifice a lot. In fact, even before the mass starts, they are already there. We, the parishioners and the priests, are really grateful (to the military),” Jumoad added.
Malacañang had also extended financial assistance to the victims through Hataman, who visited the wounded victims at the Zamboanga City Medical Center.
Hataman also visited the wake of those who were killed and provided P10,000 additional assistance for burial expenses.
The ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Relief Team, led by the region’s assistant secretary for local government Juni Ilimin and Regional Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia, are now assisting the victims.
Bishop Jumoad yesterday appealed to police and military to thoroughly investigate the bombing and arrest the suspects.
Jumoad said that the authorities have to find the culprits as soon as possible.
He also took pity on the civilians who perished and were injured in the explosion.
Jumoad said that he was saddened by the New Year blast incident because he had hoped that the year 2013 would end peacefully.
The bombing outside the Vincent Ferrer Parish Church in Sumisip, Baslian also destroyed the three-month peace in the province.
The last destructive incident in Basilan was the pre-dawn attack last Sept. 9 in Zamboanga that spilled over to the province.
“I am really, really very sad because I thought that everything would be normal and free from lawlessness. I was really very, very happy at that time because nothing evil would happen, then all of a sudden I became sad because I had hoped the criminal activities would stop. Despite the tight security of our soldiers, the lawless elements have their own ways to do it,” said Jumoad.
He said he would pray for a change of heart of those responsible for the attack.
“I pray for their conversion, that they would realize that the evil they are doing would only multiply the evils in our society and the lawlessness has no place in our society.”
Jumoad doubted that the attack was directed against the Catholic Church in Basilan since there was also an on going Muslim-Christian New Year’s party when it happened. With Evelyn Macairan, Roel Pareño