MANILA, Philippines?Now on his second lease on life, he wants what he calls the truth about the Glorietta explosion on Oct. 19, 2007, to be told.
Retired Army Col. Allan Sollano, said he believed then?as now?that an improvised explosive device, and not methane gas, had caused the blast. He said his belief was reinforced by a purported cover-up by the military and police leadership on orders allegedly of Malacañang.
In an interview with the Inquirer on the third anniversary of the explosion that killed 11 people and injured more than 100 others, Sollano, the leader of the Army Explosive and Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit that rushed to the mall in response, called for a reinvestigation.
A little over a year ago, Sollano was bedridden and sure that he would die soon due to a condition that caused body swelling and extreme pain in his joints and bones.
But after a priest heard his confession on his birthday on Aug. 1, 2009, he suddenly felt better.
Said Sollano: ?I thought I was going to die. It was a miracle I got up. Maybe I have a mission to say that Glorietta was bombed.
?Methane gas is out of the picture. Any scientist who would visit the [mall] basement would say the same thing. I?m now here, still alive. I still wish the people would know the truth.?
Only one look
Sollano can now walk around, albeit with a bit of stiffness in some joints and fingers. He talked with a pained expression on his face, as if eager to rid himself of a dirty secret.
An eight-year EOD veteran who has responded to many bombing cases, Sollano said his initial look at the explosion site on the mall?s first floor was enough to tell him that a high-explosive device was used. When he and his team went to the basement, he became all the more convinced.
?From what I saw?the dome in the roof of the basement and the damaged steel ladder?I concluded that it was caused by a very, very powerful blast effect of a high explosive,? Sollano said.
?One look and I knew it because of my experience. All the schooling I got in explosives was good. But you still need experience. All indications pointed to a high explosive,? he said.
Sollano said the bomb might have been triggered ?non-electrically,? or lit manually with a fuse and put inside a damaged tank in the basement. ?It could have been TNT, C4, Retonal or composition B. There was also a cigarette pack on top of the tank that could have been used to trigger the bomb,? he said.
What clinched it for him was a blackened plastic bag that, he said, could have held the bomb.
?The PNP (Philippine National Police) and the other investigators were all there with me when I made that discovery,? he said.
The plastic bag was later shown to have contained RDX, a chemical compound used to make C4 explosives. ?But even without it, I knew it was a high explosive. The bag was just confirmation,? he said.
If the Palace says ...
But things took a disturbing turn, according to Sollano in his account:
The remark of a police investigator to him after his discovery?that ?no matter how large this bomb is, when Malacañang says it?s just a firecracker, it?s just a firecracker??was the first sign that things were not going right.
The next day, he was called by his superior, Gen. Ricardo David, then the chief of the Army Support Command and now Armed Forces chief of staff.
David said a Col. Reiner Cruz of the Army?s G2 (or intelligence branch) was requesting Sollano to account for the C4 explosives confiscated from the Oakwood mutineers. Even if the explosives were marked as evidence, Sollano made an accounting of them anyway.
In succeeding days, Sollano?s men told him, quoting news reports on TV, that police investigators were claiming he had planted the plastic bag he found.
?I couldn?t eat. I lost weight. How could the bag have been planted when the PNP was there when I recovered it?? he said.
In one TV report, Sollano saw then PNP Director General Avelino Razon say that the bag had tested positive for RDX.
?I knew that was right. That confirms that a high explosive was used,? he said.
But then his men also told him of an alleged meeting in the Palace, where the President was supposed to have told the generals to make it look like it was methane gas that had caused the explosion.
?So the tide turned against me,? he said.
Sollano began to feel like he was being watched.
?I had surveillance training, too. So I told General David that I was feeling the surveillance. I told him that I had a gun and that if they conducted a ?special project? on me, I would fight back,? he said.
By ?special project,? he explained, he meant his disappearance and summary execution.
This was how Sollano recounted the succeeding events:
He was repeatedly visited by police investigators but he did not speak with them ?because I was feeling the whitewash and I didn?t want to be part of it.?
Sometime in November 2007, Sollano received instructions from Alexander Yano, the then Army commanding general: Report to the then Southern Police District head, Chief Supt. Luizo Ticman, who was leading the investigation.
He was told to see Ticman ?in civilian clothes, because there might be media in [the latter?s] office.?
Ticman asked Sollano if it was true that toothpaste and paint contained RDX.
?I said, ?Sir, what I know is that high explosives have RDX.? He said nothing. I asked him what it is that they wanted to happen. I told them I was just doing my job and I would stand by my findings,? Sollano said.
When Sollano left Ticman?s office, an Inspector Bacani took his statement.
Recalled Sollano: ?He wanted me to say it was really smelly in the basement. I said that in a bombed site, you get all sorts of smells. I felt he wanted to get to something, but I was not cooperating. An officer helping out with my statement told me, ?Sir, let?s just help the government.? I asked if charges would be filed against me. They said no. So I confirmed there was a whitewash.?
He reluctantly signed the statement.
Sollano said he thought long and hard about the matter until he fell ill.
?Maybe it was the souls of the dead who made me sick. I don?t know. Why was there a whitewash? There were lives lost. If we made our own report, we would have said it was a high explosion. Any good EOD would know the difference between large and small explosions. I am 100-percent sure,? he said.
Sollano retired in April 2008 and was issued a commendation for his work in the investigation of the explosion.
He started feeling the symptoms of his illness in July and was taken to hospital in October. He said he requested a discharge that same month because he could not afford the medical bills and decided to endure his condition at home in Nueva Ecija.
But Sollano recovered after his deathbed confession.
?There must have been divine intervention. My sickness gave me the courage to say the truth in the open. Because I became a coward, I thought only of my family. I told my wife that I would stand by the truth,? he said.
Sollano said his call for a reinvestigation was his chance to clear his name:
?I want to face all of them who said I was a fake. I hope the case will be reopened so we can all be clear about what happened, so all the doubts and lies told against me are cleared, so the truth in this part of our history comes out.
?Justice must be done for the victims. So we may know why they died.?