AN EMPLOYEE of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which drafted the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that is intended to strengthen peace efforts in the country’s south, was one of the two casualties in the Dec. 31 bomb blast in Cotabato City that also left more than 30 injured.
In a statement on Jan. 1, the BTC said Jonathan T. Torribiano was one of those who died, identifying him as a “hardworking, humble and peace-loving staff member” of Commissioner Melanio U. Ulama, the indigenous people representative in the commission.
“The Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and countless advocates, are very much in the forefront of establishing peace through the BOL. Hence, we can only view the bombing as a desperate attempt to sow fear in the people of Cotabato City whose great majority is yearning for true peace and human development,” the BTC said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has announced that it is creating a special investigation task group (SITG) to probe the blast on Monday afternoon at the South Seas Mall.
“I have directed the creation of an SITG to get into the bottom of this incident. We appeal to the public to remain calm but watchful and to immediately report to authorities (PRO12 Hotline Numbers: 09219898174; 09266500628) any information that may lead us to the suspects,” PNP chief Oscar D. Albayalde said on his official Twitter account on Dec. 31.
According to the latest PNP update as of Jan. 1, two civilians were killed and 34 others, including 10 minors, were hurt when the improvised explosive device went off.
Major General Cirilito Sobejana, an army division commander, told Reuters the bomb bore a “Daesh-inspired signature,” referring to Islamic State by another name. A second bomb was recovered in the same area, he said.
Mr. Sobejana said he suspected the blast was retaliation for the killing by government troops of seven members of a small militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-of-Staff Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr. said the military is also considering the involvement of other groups in the blast.
“While we all know that the terrorist BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) and its breakaway group Daulah Islamiyah are the ones with the wicked desire to sow terror and inflict harm to innocent civilians, we don’t discount the possibility of other interest groups aligned with the same evil intentions to be involved,” said Mr. Madrigal in a statement on Monday evening.
He added, “The AFP on its part is continuously collaborating with the PNP who are leading the investigation as we are also cooperating with the local government of Cotabato City in the overall security of the city.”
Meanwhile, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv S. Hataman also condemned the attack, which comes a few weeks before the Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 scheduled dates for the BOL plebiscite.
“We are irrevocably grieved about the casualties incurred, thoroughly condemn this act, and call for a thorough investigation. We need to make sure acts like these never happen again, and that the perpetrator is brought to justice,” said Mr. Hataman in a statement on last Dec. 31.
MILF chairperson Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, in a statement on Monday evening, did not discount the possibility that the terror incident could be a move to derail the Bangsamoro peace process.
“The motive is yet too premature to be concluded at this point, but we ask the authorities to examine all angles and make the result of the same public. We should not allow any party or group to make premature conclusions or draw insinuations so as to advance their own personal interest and political agenda,” he said. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras with a report from Reuters