Palawan blasts’ suspect ex-MNLF member
The suspect in last week’s twin bombings in Palawan arrested by Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) agents on Sunday was a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that had undergone specialized military training including bomb making, according to military sources and MNLF officials.
An MNLF official said the suspect, Hiya Hassan was part of the core group of MNLF commandos, who were originally sent to Palawan at the height of the Moro secessionist rebellion in the 70s, and prior to the forging of a peace agreement with the government in 1976.
Inspector Grace Vic Gumba, spokesperson of Task Force Hunter, which was formed by the by the Department of Interior and Local Government to investigate the Palawan bombings, announced Monday afternoon that they have filed four counts of frustrated murder against Hassan and five others.
Hassan, 64, was arrested on Sunday night and tagged as a suspect after investigators traced to his daughter, who is a minor, a mobile phone that was used in sending warning and scare text messages to the bus company where one of the bombs exploded on April 6. The same mobile number was traced by government agents as the origin of a message warning of more bombings and sent to Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn.
Police initially arrested and named Hassan’s daughter as the bombing suspect. But the young Hassan was released on Sunday night following the arrest of her father, according to a police source.
The MNLF, however, clarified in an interview with the Inquirer that the older Hassan has long been officially disowned by the MNLF.
“He is no longer part of the MNLF. If the police reports are true that Hassan may be involved, we in the MNLF have nothing to do with that. The present MNLF leadership under chair Nur (Misuari) has a standing commitment to respect Palawan as a zone of peace, even in case of a resumption of hostilities between our forces,” Al Babao, an official of the MNLF, told the Inquirer in a phone interview Monday.
Babao, who acts as chair of the so-called MNLF Central Palawan State Committee, said Hassan, who was known as “Commander Cobra” during the MNLF wars, and a group of unidentified Moro leaders are “operating outside the mandate of the MNLF.”
He urged government investigators to investigate Hassan’s alleged links with the fugitive former Palawan Governor Joel T. Reyes.
“We also think these bombings could be politically motivated. They should look at reports that Hassan is or has been employed at the capitol and is closely identified with the former governor who is now in hiding because of the Ortega murder case,” Babao said.
The Inquirer tried to validate a report received by the Task Group Hunter that Hassan was employed in the office of Palawan Vice Governor Clara Reyes, the wife of the ex-governor, but has yet to receive a reply.
Reyes, along with his brother and Coron Mayor Mario Reyes and two former capitol staffers, have been in hiding since warrants of arrests were issued against them last week for the murder in January last year of Palawan broadcaster Dr. Gerry Ortega.
Hagedorn had earlier asked Task Group Hunter to investigate the connection between Hassan and former governor Reyes.
He told the Inquirer that the warning text messages sent to him by the alleged perpetrators “could be diversionary and intended to confuse authorities who are now looking to serve the arrest warrant against the former governor.”
Western Command chief Major General Juancho Sabban, who named the older Hassan the bombing suspect, told reporters in a briefing Monday that Hassan’s group broke away from the main MNLF faction and that the recent bombing incidents might have been the handiwork of disgruntled MNLF members.
He said the military was still evaluating “all possible angles and motives,” including reports that Hassan’s group might be involved in “extortion” and was having disagreements with other MNLF groups over money issue.
“Extortion? Yes. Maybe. Because the intention (of the bombing was not to harm but to send a message,” he added.
Babao said there were about 15,000 MNLF members in Palawan “but all of them are noncombatants and do not bear arms.”
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