Is there a connection between the Valentine’s Day bombing in Davao City and plans to hold more military exercises between the Philippines and the United States?
By CHERYLL D. FIEL
DAVAO CITY – Was the Valentine’s Day bombing here self-inflicted?
Anti-U.S. military forces in Davao City stressed that the recent bombing could be part of the plot to justify the entry of U.S. troops particularly in Mindanao to conduct RP-US Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war exercises.
In the indignation rally here a day after the Feb. 14 bombing, Karapatan Secretary-General for Southern Mindanao Ariel Casilao said that the bombing should be seen in the light of U.S. Admiral Thomas Fargo’s statement in November 2004 that 15 out of the 25 planned Balikatan exercises will be held in Mindanao.
Khadidja Moro Women Secretary-General Evelyn Carias feared the bombings might have something to do with the anti-U.S. troops stand of City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. She expressed fears more bombings may happen to justify U.S. military presence in Mindanao.
Hermaiin Arendain, spokesperson of the Suara Bangsamoro Party, also expressed fears that claims by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) on the recent bombing, only fanned speculations that these bombings could be sponsored no less by the state. “We know who these Abu Sayyafs are and their links to the AFP,” Arendain quipped.
Another bombing spoiled the celebration of Valentine’s Day here. Interestingly, the circumstances prior to the bombing and the succeeding events bore striking resemblances of the past bombing incidents.
The first of the three bombs which exploded within a few minutes of each other in three key cities of the country (i.e., Davao City, General Santos City and Makati City) last February 14 happened just a few meters from the gate of the Davao City Overland Transport Terminal (DCOTT). The headquarters of the elite security group Task Force Davao (TFD) is located just 500 meters from where the bomb went off.
The bombing in Davao claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy and caused injuries to six others.
Just like the Davao airport bombing on March 4, 2003, police and military authorities appeared to be well aware of destabilization threats. In fact, the mayor confirmed that intelligence authorities knew of a bomb threat prior to the February 14 bombing.
A day before the airport bombing two years ago, Gen. Narciso Abaya, then chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Command – the highest military official in Mindanao – was here for a meeting in connection with securing power transmission lines and other vital installations.
The February 14 incident also took place amid tight security just like the twin blasts at the Davao airport and seaport two years ago. The police and military officers were said to have been on red alert since.
Two weeks before the 2003 airport bombing, Mayor Duterte alerted authorities in Manila that Davao City would be the next target of terrorist attacks. He even proposed to Malacañang that martial law be declared so that arrests can be made immediately. But he said he was told to “keep steady.”
Police and military authorities seemed to have failed to avert the bombing given that for almost two years now, residents in Davao City have been subjected to militarization. Task Force Davao (TFD) troops, in full battle gear, were seen roving around the city streets, going inside the malls, bars and churches.
TFD was set up following the seaport bombing on April 4, 2003, and the consequent declaration of Davao under “state of lawless violence” by President Arroyo.
An elite security force specializing in anti-terrorism operations, the TFD is composed of Strike Forces, Marines, Rangers, police mobile units, paramilitary and civilian agents deployed in Davao City “to combat terrorism, to detect and ward of terrorists and lawless criminals and to bring back the sense of peace and normalcy among terror-struck residents in the aftermath of the twin bombings.”
The TFD is also authorized to conduct intelligence gathering to avert possible crimes and prevent more bombings. They may also arrest anyone caught committing a crime, having the primary tasks of joining also the police in running after those who might have been responsible for the bombings.
The size of this unit has peaked to 1,800 members. Similar groups were established in neighboring towns like Tagum in Davao del Norte and cities like General Santos and Marbel in Central Mindanao.
The usual suspects
Just like in the past, revolutionary groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and New People’s Army (NPA) are suspected by government to be behind the Valentine’s Day bombing.
Based on cartographic sketches, the authorities stressed that since the suspects look like minors, they could be part of groups like the MILF and NPA that allegedly have minors as combatants.
This was also the case in the previous bombing incidents. Moments after the Davao airport blast, Southern Command Spokesperson Col. Daniel Lucero’s pronounced to the media that the MILF and the NPA could be behind the incident.
In the past, the military’s accusations resulted in several lightning raids of Moro communities, countless illegal arrests, including torture, a spate of abductions, grave threats and harassments allegedly perpetrated by task force members.
Duterte had also tagged the MILF as the mastermind of the Davao airport blast two days after it occurred. However, in the recent bombing he was careful in putting the blame on any group, saying that “it might not really be a fair to do that.” Bulatlat