Red flag in Quiapo
Sorry, may sumabog… Nalusutan tayo” (Sorry, there was an explosion. Somebody got past us). That was the reaction of the top cop, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, to the latest bombing incidents to rock Quiapo in Manila. Two people were killed in two blasts that occurred last Saturday, the first at about 6 p.m., the next at past 8:30 p.m., ironically just as the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, Director Oscar Albayalde, was concluding a press briefing on the first explosion. Six other people, among them two policemen, were injured.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks but the PNP rejects that angle, saying it was not a case of terrorism but most likely a result of a personal or professional feud. The intended target appeared to be a Shiite Muslim cleric and Bureau of Internal Revenue lawyer, Nasser Abinal; a package containing the bomb was delivered to his office on Norzagaray Street where it went off, killing the aide who received it, Muhammad Baniga, and the GrabExpress delivery man, Mark Anthony Torres, who brought it. Abinal himself was not in his office at the time. Another explosion would hit the area a couple of hours later.
“This has nothing to do with terrorism. There is no indication that this was done by a terror group, local or foreign,” said Chief Supt. Joel Coronel, Manila Police District director, citing the alleged work-related threats Abinal had received in the past.
And what of the deadlier pipe bomb explosion late last month, also in Quiapo, that injured 14 people and that occurred in the middle of the Asean summit in Manila? That, too, has been solved, according to the PNP. It was the result of gangs doing battle against each other, supposedly triggered by the mauling of a 14-year-old member of one group. The April 28 blast was not related to the twin explosions last Saturday, said Albayalde. And no terrorism in both cases, merely turf-war disturbances apparently.
So what exactly was Dela Rosa talking about when he said “Nalusutan tayo”? Who eluded the police? His statement was part of a larger response to the question why PNP intelligence appeared to have failed in preventing the incidents. Dela Rosa said that while the PNP is not looking for alibis, “other intelligence agencies must be given time to explain bakit nangyari (why this happened).” And then he made the admission that somebody, or a group, had managed to get past police monitoring, allowing the explosions to happen.
Which is a rather curious thing to say, if his other police officers are confidently declaring that there isn’t more to these explosions than mere gang warfare (in the case of the first incident) or a deadly professional feud (in the case of the blasts at the Abinal office). Dela Rosa appears to be hinting otherwise—that police intelligence had failed at detecting something more sinister or shadowy. Police intelligence, after all, is not geared toward anticipating spontaneous gang eruptions, for instance, or private enmities that boil over into murder by bomb delivery. That official and well-funded apparatus is tasked to look out for major threats to public order and safety. So what did it really miss in this case?
Hard questions have to be asked about the Quiapo explosions, and coherent and credible explanations from the police have to be forthcoming if the public is to be reassured and spared of the need for conjecture and speculation. The repeated site of the blasts itself raises a red flag—Quiapo, the historic and symbolic heart of the metropolis and the country, the national town plaza of old that hosts untold numbers of ordinary Filipinos on any given day. Any induced chaos in it is a strike at the nation’s sense of security and stability.
What does terrorizing Quiapo accomplish (except perhaps a lockdown)? The PNP owes it to the public to dig deeper, and to get its story straight.
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