American, 4 others dead in Makati bus bomb blast

Terrorists blamed;
Aquino re-assesses
warnings of US, UK

MANILA – Authorities are leaving no stone unturned to determine the culprits in Tuesday’s deadly bus bombing in Makati City which claimed five lives, including an American citizen, and injuring at least 13 passengers.The bombing was initially blamed on Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf which was responsible for a similar bus bombing in Manila in which three people were killed.

United States authorities identified the American only as Gloria Reyes.

MAKATI BUS BOMB BLAST. President Benigno S. Aquino III, accompanied by Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Raul Bacalzo, personally inspects the Newman Gold Liner passenger bus which was damaged in a bomb blast in Makati City during his visit to the Southern Police District (SPD) headquarters in Taguig City . The President appealed to the public to remain calm amidst this tragic incident, ordered a full scale investigation and to run after the perpetrators of the bus bombing incident. The big explosion occurred inside the Newman Gold Liner bus while approaching the loading bay and MRT Buendia railway station on EDSA’s northbound lane, killing five people and injuring 13 others.

President Benigno S. Aquino III himself said the government’s intelligence cluster is reassessing all reports to find any indication that may lead to those responsible for the bombing.

This developed as the United States maintained its  travel advisory on  the Philippines amid the bus bombing. US, together with Great Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand issued travel advisories last November warning against possible terrorist attacks in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

US embassy spokesman Rebecca Thompson said the US travel advisory issued last November 10, 2010 warned Americans “to make informed decisions as they travel around the country” because of the presence of terrorism.

Thompson said the US sympathizes with the families of the victims, since one of those who died is a US citizen, Gloria Reyes.

National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Nicanor Bartolome said that an improvised explosive device with  an 81-mm mortar round  and triggered by a cellphone was placed in the bus as it traveled along EDSA in Makati. Two men acted suspiciously before the bombing and alighted before the north-bound bus reached Ayala Avenue from Pasay City.
Aquino visited the victims of the bombing in the St. Lukes Hospital in Fort  Bonifacio in Taguig City and the Ospital ng Makati and assured that the expenses of the victims will be shouldered by the government.

The President immediately ordered the investigation of the bombing so that the culprits would be identified, arrested and charged.

The bombing could deal a blow to President Aquino III’s effort to project an image of stability after coming to power seven months ago and attract foreign investors to fund an ambitious package of infrastructure projects he unveiled recently. It was also a reminder of the complex security problems in a country grappling with long-running Muslim and communist rebellions as well as rampant criminal gangs.

Aquino has directed his national security adviser to reassess threats that reportedly came from terrorist groups last year and that prompted several countries, including Australia, Britain and the U.S., to put in place travel warnings. At the time, the government had not found the threats credible.

No suspects have been named, but authorities have suggested the possible involvement of Muslim militant groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, which was blamed for a 2005 bus bombing that killed four a block away from the site of Tuesday’s blast. 
Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr.  assured that the government is doing every effort to keep the public safe and urged the people to do their share by staying vigilant.

“While we are seriously concerned about the bombing, which definitely by design or not is terrifying, the Philippine National Police together with other agencies concerned like the intelligence community and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are already on top of the situation as they have been in the past,” Ochoa said.

“Rest assured that these will be resolved with reasonable dispatch and expediency. No cause for panic. Our citizens should be more vigilant though in assisting in every way the government in these efforts,” Ochoa added.
Vice President Jejomar Binay and his son, Makati City Mayor Junjun Binay denounced the perpetrators of the bus bombing. They were among the officials who arrived in the scene early and helped the victims.

Initial investigation showed the blast occurred shortly before 2 p.m. just as the Newman Goldliner bus with license plate TXJ 710 had stopped at the northbound loading bay of EDSA corner Buendia Ave. near a station of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

As lawmakers condemned the  bus bombing, they also called on law enforcement agencies to swiftly bring to justice the perpetrators of this senseless act of violence that killed five people.

“We abhor and condemn this incident in the strongest terms as it is not only an affront to the slowly stabilizing peace and order situation in our country, but more importantly, it is an affront to the sacrosanct value of human life. The perpetrators must be held legally accountable and they must not be allowed to erode the newfound optimism of our people and investors in our country,” said Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
As such, Belmonte urged all law enforcement agencies, especially the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), “to swiftly finish investigating this isolated but senseless act of violence in the name of those who were killed and injured and their respective families.”

“On behalf of the House of Representatives, I would like to express my deepest sympathies to those who were killed and injured, as well as to their respective families in the tragedy in Makati. Rest assured that we in the House of Representatives will pass sound legislation in strengthening the country’s security situation in response to the elements that continue to disturb the Filipino lives,” he said.

On the other hand, while the Buendia bus bombing incident on Tuesday has exposed anew the vulnerability of the Philippines as a terrorist target, several congressmen have said that the random terrorist attack on a passenger bus should not be blamed on the alleged “failure of intelligence or even negligence on security protocols.”

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Trenas said that pinpointing specific terrorist targets is almost next to impossible even to First World countries like the United States which has the world’s most sophisticated intelligence capability, both in electronics and human intelligence.

“Let’s stop the finger-pointing because this will not help us in properly addressing the continuing problem on terrorism. This problem is global and I don’t think that even Superman could prevent every single terrorist attack that come our way,” said Trenas, chair of the House committee on good government and public accountability.

“What we should do now is to show these cowards that they can never change our way of life,” he said.

Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento agreed with the Iloilo solon’s observation as he noted that the country’s public transport system involving buses and jeepneys is not designed to detect and counter possible strikes by terrorists and other criminal elements.

“Our transport system allows bus and jeepney drivers to pick up passenger from any point of their route instead of pre-established terminals or pick-up stations which could allow our law enforcement units to establish security checks. This system might even help decongest traffic in Metro Manila,” he said.

“Without a system that can allow the establishment of fool-proof security protocols in our public transport system, we must admit that there’s no way that we can prevent attacks similar to the Buendia bus bombing incident. So we should decide if we really want this to go on or take the necessary steps to secure our public transport system,” he added.

For his part, Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said that terrorist attacks are hardly predictable and vigilance by the public is the only available precaution that could minimize the possibility of a terror strike.

“There’s really not much we can do to stop such attack because we don’t have the resources, the manpower and the logistics to secure every bus and every passenger jeepney in Metro Manila alone. That doesn’t even include public places which are considered soft targets,” he said.

Nograles proposed that the House leadership should call for a security briefing involving PNP and AFP officials so that Congress can craft a measure that might help improve the country’s security situation.

“There are certain proposals that are worthy of serious consideration, including the possibility of amending the PNP Law. In the wake of the latest bombing incident, I think that we should secure some inputs from the PNP and the AFP on how we can improve our existing laws that pertain to national security,” he said.

Nograles said that investigators of the bus bombing incident should also look into the possibility that this could be part of a bigger plot to embarrass the Aquino administration and scuttle its gains in improving the country’s investment climate.

“President (Benigno) Aquino (III) has done an excellent job in selling the country for more investments which would hopefully boost the economy and at the same time, provide employment to our people. There might be some people who doesn’t want P-Noy to succeed,” he said.

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