MANILA, Philippines?President Aquino on Friday put up a P1-million bounty for information leading to the arrest of the people behind the January 25 bombing of a passenger bus along Edsa in Makati City that killed five people.
Mr. Aquino announced the bounty a day after meeting with Philippine National Police chief Director General Raul Bacalzo and other PNP officials, who submitted to him composite sketches of two bus passengers seen acting suspiciously before an explosion ripped through the Newman Goldliner bus.
?We have not ruled out any angle ? We have not considered, we have not identified any particular group as of yet,? Bacalzo told reporters when asked about the possible involvement of the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah in the attack.
Asked about the role of foreign bomb expert Omar Patek, National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Nicanor Bartolome said the police had yet to identify a particular suspect, adding: ?We will get to that later on.?
A police intelligence officer said in an Inquirer report the other day that the bombing was perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf bandit group on instructions by Patek, who is on the most-wanted list of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Mr. Aquino told the media that the Palace security meeting reviewed ?all potential [threat] groups ... the steps that are being undertaken to identify the perpetrators as well as the actual methodology.?
?I will not reveal how we will capture them but ? I did order a provision of a million-peso reward for information leading to the arrest of and prosecution of all the suspects involved in the case and we will increase that as necessary,? he added.
Mr. Aquino said there were references to a threat during the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo this month but added that there were no clear threats that were detected at that time.
Mr. Aquino said he was also told of potential threats in the country and the steps needed to make it difficult for terrorists to attack.
?Amongst the most salient features are that there is a need to get force multipliers and the citizenry involved in this fight against terrorism,? he said.
Mr. Aquino said there are 12,600 buses plying Edsa but the Metro Manila police force only had 16,000 men.
?Obviously, there is a mismatch between the number of buses to be secured alone,? he said.
Security guards and barangay watchmen, he said, will be tapped to monitor suspicious persons.
Bartolome expressed optimism that the police would be able to solve the bombing case soon.
?At least for now, we have a starting point. We are looking for two persons who can help us. We have identified the type of bomb that was used. We learned how it was triggered and we are considering possible angles based on the similarities of the incident with those that happened in the past,? Bartolome said.
?With good leads like these, we can say that we are already halfway through in our investigation ... We really have to be certain. We won?t be hasty in this case,? he said.
Computer imaging system
The composite sketches were based on survivors? testimonies and a computer imaging system that generated the photograph-like images.
Bartolome described both suspects as fair complexioned, weighing 70 to 75 kilos and 30 to 35 years old. One is 5?5? to 5?7? in height, the other is around 5?6?.
?Based on witnesses? accounts, these two persons boarded the said bus at the Heritage Hotel. They paid up to Ayala (Avenue) but they disembarked at Malugay (Street). That area is before Ayala,? Bartolome said.
?And they were seated exactly on the sixth row where the bomb was positioned. And so, we?re looking for them because they may be able to contribute to the solution of the case,? he added.
Not suspects yet
Bartolome, however, said the two were only ?persons of interest.?
?They are not yet being considered as suspects,? Bartolome said.
?We?re not yet certain (if they are the perpetrators) ? We have to talk to them and determine from them if they have anything to do with the incident,? he added.
In a dinner with Inquirer editors and reporters the other night, Bacalzo said police were still focusing on the investigation of the bus and the site of the blast.
?There is nothing on that (Patek angle) yet. It (investigation) hasn?t reached that level. We are still at the site ? I don?t know (about that). We have no information,? Bacalzo said in a mixture of Filipino and English.
He also said the police had not established any motive yet for the attack or identified the group responsible.
?We want to base it on evidence. Everything is being considered, everything, every angle,? Bacalzo said.
He said the police had not dropped any angle, including the angles of terrorist attack and efforts to destabilize the government.
Blast in Maguindanao
In Mindanao, a powerful bomb purportedly similar to the one used at the Makati bombing exploded Thursday noon along the North Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat highway in Buluan, Maguindanao, authorities said.
The explosion came barely three months after an improvised explosive device killed 11 people aboard a bus while it was traversing the same highway.
Col. Romeo Mendoza, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade, said Thursday?s explosion was caused by an improvised device fashioned out of a 60-millimeter mortar shell and fitted with a mobile phone as triggering device.
No one was injured in the blast.
In the wake of the bombing, Makati Mayor Jejomar ?Jun-Jun? Binay Jr. proposed several measures to help prevent similar incidents, including deployment of security personnel at loading bays and bus terminals.
Elsewhere, the Manila Police District on Friday fielded 70 policemen to act as marshals on passenger buses. With reports from Tina G. Santos and Jeannette I. Andrade in Manila; Edwin O. Fernandez, Jeoffrey Maitem, Julie Alipala and Orlando Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao