MANILA - The Philippine National Police on Monday launched manhunt operations against perpetrators behind the suspected IED blast in Masbate City that killed football player Kieth Absalon and his cousin.
PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar condemned the bombing, which he alleged was perpetrated by members of the New People's Army.
“I am directing the local police to coordinate with the military and launch manhunt operations against the suspects," he said in a statement.
"Hindi po kami titigil hangga’t hindi nabibigyan ng hustisya ang mga inosenteng nasawi at nasugatan sa pagsabog na ito," he added.
(We will not stop until justice is served for the innocent victims of this explosion.)
Absalon, 21, and his cousin Nolven Absalon, 40, were riding their bikes along Purok 4, Barangay Anas in Masbate City when the blast happened around 6:45 a.m. Sunday.
Nolven's 16-year-old son was also hurt in the blast and was set to undergo surgery, according to a family member.
Eleazar ordered local police to enhance visibility in "NPA-infested areas" to ensure safety of residents.
“I am directing all police personnel, particularly in NPA-infested areas, to be on high alert and undertake target hardening measures for possible future attacks by these communist terrorists,” he said.
On Monday, the Absalon family in a statement said they believed the victims were also shot and called for justice.
"We believe na hindi po sila namatay dahil lang po sa landmine (they didn't just die because of the landmine)," the footballer's sister Nathalie said.
"Based on my parents and relatives statement and sa pictures na din po, meron pong bakas ng bala na makikita (there are gunshot wounds), which is the main reason why they died."
"Makikita yung bakas ng bala sa mukha ng kuya ko at sa ulo at maging sa likod ng pinsan ko (There are gunshot wounds in my brother's face and head, and my cousin's back)," she added.
Kieth played for the Malaya Football Club and the Far Eastern University football team.
He was part of the FEU-Diliman Baby Tamaraws that won numerous UAAP Juniors Football Tournament, culminating with a Most Valuable Player award in 2016, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) said in a statement.
In 2018, he was called up to represent the Philippines in the AFF U-19 Championship which was held in Surabaya, Indonesia, said the PFF.
“It is heartbreaking to see a promising player’s future in Kieth Absalon cut short due to a terrible incident” PFF president Mariano Araneta, Jr. said.
The Malaya Football Club described Kieth as a "brilliant player", a "born leader, follower of the highest order" and, "a kind, gentle and respectful soul."
"Rest easy in that big football pitch in the sky," the team said on Twitter.
- with report from Jonathan Magistrado