Bloody Friday in Davao
DAVAO CITY—President Duterte declared a nationwide “state of lawless violence” on Saturday hours after suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits detonated a bomb at a night market in his hometown, killing 14 people and wounding 68 others.
Mr. Duterte, who called the attack an act of “terrorism,” said his declaration did not amount to an imposition of martial law.
He said the declaration would allow the deployment of troops in urban centers to back up the police in setting up checkpoints and increasing patrols.
“I’m declaring now a state of lawlessness. It is not martial law. It has nothing to do with the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus,” Mr. Duterte told reporters before dawn, after inspecting the site of the explosion at the night market on Roxas Avenue here.
The site near the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University and a five-star hotel was littered with debris from the explosion and the ground splattered with the blood of 10 people who were killed outright when the bomb went off after 10 p.m. on Friday.
Mr. Duterte said the state of lawlessness would remain until he decided all citizens were safe.
“I have a duty to protect this country and to keep the integrity of the nation intact,” the President said.
Military, police to run PH
“I am inviting now the armed forces, the military and the police, to run the country in accordance with my specifications,” he said.
Mr. Duterte said there would be “many checkpoints,” but curfew would not be imposed.
“Any punitive or any action at all taken by the security forces will be in furtherance to stop terrorism,” he said.
“And I am including drugs because of so many killings unfairly attributed to the police,” he added.
There was confusion earlier on Saturday about the scope of Mr. Duterte’s declaration—whether it was limited to Davao City or covered the whole country.
Malacañang officials at first said it covered only Davao, but later said the declaration covered the entire country.
Authorities were investigating the possible involvement of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group in the explosion.
Mr. Duterte last month ordered the military to destroy the Abu Sayyaf after the bandits beheaded an 18-year-old male captive whose family failed to pay them P1 million in ransom.
Nearly 9,000 troops are battling the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo Island, Sulu province, and 15 soldiers and about 30 bandits have been killed in clashes since fighting intensified late last month.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Abu Sayyaf had struck back after suffering heavy losses.
“We have predicted this and warned our troops accordingly, but the enemy is also adept at using the democratic space granted by our Constitution to move around freely and unimpeded to sow terror,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
Earlier on Saturday, the Abu Sayyaf, through spokesperson Muammar Askali, alias Abu Ramie, claimed responsibility for the explosion.
Abus disown blast
Later, however, Askali denied Al Harakatul Al Islamiya, the Abu Sayyaf’s official name, was behind the attack.
In a phone call to the Inquirer, Askali said the Abu Sayyaf’s ally Daulat Ul Islamiya carried out the bombing.
“They are doing this to sympathize [with] our group and we are sending a message to President Rodrigo Duterte that all the Daulat throughout the country is not afraid of him,” Askali said.
Askali is the son-in-law of Mohammad Said, an influential Abu Sayyaf commander who used the nom de guerre Amah Maas and who was killed in the military’s offensive in Sulu.
He said Friday night’s explosion was only the start of attacks that would continue as long as the military kept up pressure on the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
Askali said the attacks would stop only if Mr. Duterte made “hadith” his laws and converted to Islam.
The hadith is a collection of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, with accounts of his daily practices.
Sunni Muslims use the hadith to emulate the Prophet.
There was no comment from Mr. Duterte, who told reporters at site of the blast that investigators were also looking at other possible suspects, including drug syndicates, which he has targeted in a brutal crackdown.
“These are extraordinary times and I suppose that I’m authorized to allow the security forces of this country to do searches,” the President said, asking the public to cooperate and be vigilant.
“We’re trying to cope with a crisis now. There is a crisis in this country involving drugs, extrajudicial killings and there seems to be an environment of lawless violence,” he said.
Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan, the Southern Mindanao police director who is leading the investigation of the blast, said police were also looking at the possible involvement of “disgruntled vendors” in the explosion.
“There were some disgruntled vendors in the awarding of stalls at the night market. This is one of the [angles] we are looking [at],” Gaerlan said.
He said any group could claim responsibility for the attack. “That is normal,” he said. “They can use it to boost their popularity, but as I said, we are still investigating.”
Gaerlan said investigators had not yet confirmed that the explosion was caused by a bomb.
“We are still collecting evidence,” he said.
President Duterte’s communications secretary, Martin Andanar, said the explosive device appeared to have been made from a mortar round, and doctors reported many of the victims had shrapnel wounds.
But Chief Insp. Andrea de la Cerna, spokesperson for the Southern Mindanao Police, said that although shrapnel had been found on the dead and wounded, it remained unclear whether what had gone off at the site was an explosive device.
Davao on lockdown
Gaerlan said police were reviewing video from security cameras of several establishments on Roxas Avenue.
He declined to comment on reports that at least two suspects had been taken into police custody.
Mr. Duterte said he had put Davao City under lockdown.
The Philippine National Police explained that the lockdown would enable security forces to restrict the movements of the perpetrators.
PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa also placed all police units across the country on full alert to prevent the perpetrators from carrying out attacks in other parts of the country.
“We will not be cowed by this single act of terrorism. These people don’t deserve an inch of space in a civilized society,” Dela Rosa said.
In Cagayan de Oro City, Chief Supt. Noel Constantino, Northern Mindanao police chief, put all police units on full alert and called on the public to watch out for suspicious persons and packages.
Mr. Duterte said Davao City remained safe.
“Of course, Davao is safe,” said the President, a former mayor of Davao who takes pride in keeping peace and order in the city by ruling it with an iron fist.
The city is now governed by his children. Daughter Sara is mayor and son Paolo is vice mayor.
On Friday, Mr. Duterte told reporters that his city was a safe place.
He said he would resign if anyone were mugged or robbed in the city.
On Saturday, he said the blast could not be blamed on failure of intelligence, as there had been warnings about a possible attack in Davao because of the military’s offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
Security and intelligence officials had been in the city, he noted.
The Department of Justice formed a group to investigate the attack.
The panel is composed of justice officials, National Bureau of Investigation agents, and prosecutors, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said.
Mr. Duterte rejected the idea of involving foreign experts in investigating the blast.
“I do not want any foreign investigators in the city. The police in the Republic of the Philippines and the military, the armed forces of the country, are capable of doing the investigation,” he said.
Mr. Duterte was in Davao City when the explosion occurred. Shortly after the blast, he went to the vicinity to preside over a security meeting with officials.
Past 4 a.m., he strode out of the Marco Polo Hotel and walked toward nearby Roxas Avenue to inspect the blast site.
His visit came about an hour after explosives experts and forensic investigators had finished combing through the scene, where bloodied bags and slippers were left on the ground, not far from an empty, pink baby stroller.
The night market features stalls selling food and offering massage services right on the roadside. There are also rows of used-clothes stalls.
At least three of the victims were wearing the uniform of massage therapists, said Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.
Aside from inspecting the blast site, Mr. Duterte also visited the injured at hospitals.
He also went to the morgue where the bodies of the people who perished in the blast had been taken.
A photograph released by Malacañang showed the President condoling with the families of the fatalities.
Later on Saturday, the city honored the dead with a memorial Mass celebrated by Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles.
Mayor Sara Duterte and other city officials, including the city police chief, Senior Supt. Michael John Dubria, attended the Mass.
In his homily, Valles called for calm among the city residents, but rallied them to stand up to terror and other forms of violence.
After the Mass, residents, some carrying placards proclaiming that Davao City would never vow to terror, offered flowers and lit candles at the blast site. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana and Vince F. Nonato in Manila; Allan Nawal, Julie S. Alipala, Judy Quiros and Jigger Jerusalem, Inquirer Mindanao; AP and AFP
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