Many of the victims were visitors, convention delegates from around the country. Perhaps that is why the blast that shook Cagayan de Oro and killed eight persons and injured 46 others at a popular nightspot last Friday continues to reverberate. It struck—it still jangles—a common nerve. A week since the tragic incident, however, we still don’t know who did it, and why it was done. This silence from the investigating agencies is almost deafening.
Aside from those two essential questions, others also need to be asked. Here are three related sets.
First: Two days after the bombing, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas noted that the explosive “was really different because it did not have shrapnel… or metal parts like in grenades or claymore mines.” The physicians who prepared the autopsy report had not found any. “In other words, the bomb was not a mortar round or an artillery round, which was set off by a detonator, because no metal parts were recovered. It did not contain nails, glass shards or metal balls, which are usually placed inside a bomb to hurt people.”
Why, then, did the officer in charge of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, based in Cagayan de Oro itself, say initial investigation showed that a mortar round had been used? Perhaps we can attribute Brig. Gen. Ricardo Visaya’s statement to initial confusion. But where did his sense of certainty come from? “It is made of mortar but we cannot say what type of mortar, and the investigators are trying to determine if it’s a 60mm or an 80mm type of mortar and they are evaluating the fragments recovered,” he said the day after the bombing. Then he added, in a mix of Filipino and English: “This is the style we usually get from armed Moro rebels in the past, but it’s not fair to attribute this to any rebel group.”
Turns out it was not fair at all to declare the bomb was a mortar round; what was Visaya’s purpose in his passive-aggressive raising of the Moro scare?
Second: Early in July, the Canadian, Australian and American embassies issued adverse travel alerts, advising their citizens not to travel to any part of Mindanao. The US travel advisory included the cities of Davao, General Santos and Cagayan de Oro, even though these areas were seen as “generally more controlled.” It also noted that “US Embassy employees must receive special authorization from embassy security officials to travel to any location in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, including these urban centers.”
Did the perpetrators behind the July 26 bombing show up on the US security radar? While it is only right that the Philippine government should protest blanket travel advisories that cover inordinately large areas (“any location in Mindanao”?), it is also only prudent for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to reconsider the basis of the travel alerts and request the three embassies for a briefing.
Third: Despite Cagayan de Oro’s longstanding reputation for being safe, the heavy hand of violence has visited the popular convention city from time to time. Perhaps unknown or unremembered by many, two mysterious blasts shook the city late last year.
On Oct. 11, 2012, two bombs were found outside Maxandrea Hotel near Cogon Market. The second bomb was defused, but the first exploded, killing two civilians and wounding two of the policemen who had responded to the early morning call to investigate an unusual package.
On Nov. 21, a grenade attached to the door of a financing company exploded when the firm opened for business, wounding eight victims, including two policemen who happened to be passing by at the exact moment of detonation.
What has happened to the official investigation into these incidents? Even more important: Do they have any clues to offer about the July 26 bombing? At the time, sketchy reports suggested that the Oct. 11 blast did not involve mortar rounds either.
But even if the 2012 bombings have nothing to do with the big one last Friday, the state of the investigation into the incidents or the lack of resolution in the cases still bears important consequences. Are the police in the city up to the job (and deserving of the city’s enviable reputation for general safety)? Are certain groups using the traditional openness of the city to test new modes of attack?
The 2012 bombings quickly faded from national consciousness, in part because the victims were the city’s own residents. We hope that the national attention that is now focused on Cagayan de Oro will help solve the mystery, not only of the bombing last Friday, but also of the explosions last year.