Police: Drug, fake cash gangs eyed in Leyte blasts
HILONGOS, Leyte — The twin bombings in the town plaza here on Wednesday night may have been perpetrated by criminal gangs that were busted by the police in October.
Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar, police director for Eastern Visayas, maintained that the explosion that injured 32 persons – 10 of them children – was not done by terrorist groups and described it as an “isolated case.”
He said they were looking into the possibility that the attack may be in retaliation for the arrest by the police of a “drug queen” or the counterfeit money confiscated by the police earlier.
“It was not a terroristic activity. There are two possible motives actually. One, way back in October, we made an accomplishment in a drug operation and two, there was seizure of counterfeit money. We are looking into these angles,” Beltejar told a news conference here on Thursday.
He claimed that they already had leads on the identities of the perpetrators who planted an improvised explosive device near the stage where a boxing bout was taking place and another near a water tank, about 20 meters away.
The perpetrators used a cartridge of an 81-mm mortar, police said.
Initial police investigation showed that the 300 square-meter plaza in Barangay Central was packed with more than 1,000 people who were watching an amateur boxing event, which was one of the highlights of the town’s fiesta celebration.
At exactly 9 p.m., an IED hidden near the water tank exploded. A minute later, the explosive near the stage went off.
It was the first explosion that caused the most injuries because the second explosion didn’t create a lot of damage as its blasting cap did not detonate.
Had the two devices exploded, more people would have either been killed or wounded and would have damaged the nearby municipal hall and police station.
Thirty-two persons were hurt – 10 of them children and the youngest, 7, in the explosion, the first reported in the town.
Of the number, 16 had been discharged from the hospital while 16 others were still confined at the Leyte Baptist Hospital, Living Hope Hospital in Maasin City and at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban City, about 146 kilometers from here.
An official of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, who asked not to be named since he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the devices were detonated through a cellular phone.
It was not clear yet how and what time the suspect planted the devices.
Although there were policemen in the area, security was lax since this southern town of 86,000 people had always been peaceful.
Before the explosions, the atmosphere in the plaza was festive. The people, especially those in the plaza, were enjoying the festivities to celebrate the town fiesta, which fell on Dec. 28.
Beltejar admitted that the perpetrators were able to pull a fast one on the police.
“Naisahan tayo, but even the best intelligence network in the world, naiisahan din. It does happen and so it happened in this town where security was in full force that night,” he said.
The police official said their leads indicated that the bombings might be in retaliation for the arrest of a drug suspect or the success of the police in preventing the proliferation of counterfeit bills in the town.
Senior Insp. Alberto Renomeron Jr., town police chief, said that they were able to arrest Raida Ampaso Sarip, 29, from Marawi City during a buy-bust operation on Oct. 22.
She is now detained at sub-provincial jail in Baybay City, Leyte.
But according to the police chief, the other members of Sarip’s illegal drugs group are still roaming Hilongos and may have done the bombings to get back at the police.
Possible suspects too are members of the gang responsible for the counterfeit bills seized by the police also in October.
Renomeron said a young boy, who was with a group of men, was caught using counterfeit money in P1,000 denomination at a videoke bar in the town.
He surmised that the police might have thwarted the group’s plans to spread more counterfeit money in the municipality.
Hilongos Mayor Albert Villahermosa and Rep. Jose Cari of Leyte, assuaged the fears that enveloped the residents here.
“We cannot deny that our people here are now cowering in fear. But I am calling on them not to be afraid. We are on top of the situation and our police authorities are doing their best to solve this tragic incident,” Villahermosa, a mayor now on his second term, said. SFM
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