AFP, PNP deny intel failure in Marawi bomb attack
MANILA, Philippines — Both the military and the police denied that a failure of intelligence led to Sunday’s bombing of the Mindanao State University (MSU) gymnasium in Marawi City, which killed four persons and injured at least 50 others, with the former pointing blame at lax campus security for the terror attack.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police each claimed they had issued advisories warning their units of a possible attack in Mindanao, following a “very successful” series of operations against local terrorist groups.
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. on Tuesday said the bombing could have been prevented if more stringent security measures had been enforced on MSU’s main campus in Marawi, a city still recovering from a five-month siege by armed militants in 2017.
Like other state universities, AFP and PNP personnel are not allowed on the MSU campus, which employs private security to maintain peace and order.
“They should be checking all the bags of those entering but apparently, this was not being done, so the bomb got inside the gymnasium,” Brawner said in a CNN Philippines interview.
According to the military chief, the AFP had warned all security forces, as well as the local government units not only in Marawi, but also in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte of the possibility of retaliatory attacks by terrorists.
“We told them to be on the lookout, to be vigilant because the possibility of these kinds of attacks was high,” he said.
At a press briefing in Camp Crame on Tuesday, PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo also said police units had been on high alert the whole time.
“There was no failure of intelligence that happened here, because, as I mentioned, there were priority intelligence reports prior to the incident that prompted us to issue directives regarding this important information that we need to validate,” she said.
But Fajardo acknowledged that the Police Regional Office in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) “did not receive any information that would lead to the specifics of these alleged bombings in Mindanao, particularly in MSU.”
BARMM spokesperson Naguib Sinarimbo earlier said authorities had received reports about a circulating text message on a purported plan to execute a terrorist activity in the region before the MSU bombing.
For now, police and military forces have been given temporary leave to secure MSU, according to Brawner.
“We’re there now. And we want to assure the students that they are safe inside the campus, especially the Christian students who reportedly left after the incident. We are asking them to come back to continue their studies,” he said.
2 persons of interest
Meanwhile, the PNP said it had already identified two persons of interest, who were suspected to have placed the explosive inside the gym, based on eyewitness accounts.
Fajardo said the two men were “members of a local terrorist group operating in Mindanao” believed to have been involved in previous bombings.
She said at least 19 witnesses were able to identify the persons of interest.
One of them was wearing a black jacket and went inside the gym with a bag but left without it, according to Brawner.
The AFP and PNP are still validating the claim of the Islamic State (IS), along with local affiliates Dawlah Islamiyah and Maute, that it was behind the attack.
At a public briefing, AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar said IS’ claim was in doubt, as there were no foreign bombers believed to be in the Philippines at present.
But he said it was possible foreign groups might have reconnected with local terrorist groups.
No martial law
The AFP and PNP also dismissed speculations of a suicide bombing in the absence of any evidence.
Brawner ruled out the need to declare martial law in Mindanao, unlike the Marawi siege when the island was placed under military rule for two years.
“There’s no need for martial law because your security forces are on top of the situation,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, the Commission on Human Rights said it was launching its own investigation on the MSU blast as well as a quick response operation to provide assistance to the victims’ families.
The commission said the attack seemed intended to “sow fear among people and intend to disrupt all efforts toward peacebuilding, especially in places of worship and learning.”