MANILA, Philippines – Four people were killed and 14 wounded in a powerful explosion inside a bus on EDSA in Makati yesterday afternoon.
Police have yet to determine the cause of the blast but have not ruled out terrorism.
At Malacañang, President Aquino said the terrorism angle would be closely looked into.
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).
The explosion was so powerful that it tore a hole in a nearby perimeter wall along EDSA. The explosion also punched a hole through the floor of the bus large enough for a man to pass through. The vehicle’s windshield was shattered.
National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Nicanor Bartolome said the victims were rushed to the St. Luke’s Global City Medical Center and the Ospital ng Makati.
Two of the fatalities were identified as Jhohanson Reyes and Mariano Salustiano.
A dzMM report identified four of the wounded as Lino Antonio, Victoriano Jeffrey, Anabelle Gozon and Mary Grace Borondia. Bartolome said nine of the injured were females.
The explosion caused heavy traffic on EDSA and around Makati.
Bus conductor Michael Jaralve said the explosion came seconds after two male passengers who boarded the bus in Baclaran got off near the Buendia MRT station. He said he was certain a bomb caused the explosion.
A Radio Veritas employee, Lino Antonio, said the blast could have originated from the compartment underneath the floor of the bus.
He told a radio interview that he was seated at the middle part of the bus.
Antonio, who was brought to the Ospital ng Makati, said he saw two of his co-passengers – a man and woman – die almost instantly.
Bartolome said investigators would first have to determine what caused the explosion.
“It will take a while. We will determine. We will complete the investigation. It is an explosion. We can’t say yet if it’s a bombing. We will coordinate with the MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority) to check their CCTV (closed circuit television) for possible identities of the suspects,” Bartolome said.
Vice President Jejomar Binay rushed to the scene and voiced his outrage.
“I condemn this deplorable and violent act. Such an act should not go unpunished,” Binay said.
For his part, former President Joseph Estrada said the incident showed the worsening crime situation in the country.
“The situation in our country is now getting worse. The authorities should go out of their way to get the perpetrators. What is happening to our country now? We have to see to it that our law enforcement will go out of their way to arrest the perpetrators of this dastardly act. The trouble is our police are the ones involved in criminality,” Estrada said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said they are treating the bus explosion as well as the other recent high profile cases of violence as “police matters” at the moment.
But he said the intelligence community is working closely with the police to determine if there is really a plot to destabilize the Aquino administration by creating a scenario of lawlessness.
“We are closely monitoring the security situation in the country,” he told The STAR.
The same view was raised by Brig. Gen. Tristan Kison, National Capital Region Command (NCRCom) commander, in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo.
“We’re operating only in support of the PNP (Philippine National Police). It might be an overkill and might only create panic if we declare a red alert because we treat the incident as a police matter,” he said.
But while the police have yet to determine the cause of the blast, Bartolome said he won’t take chances and placed the 17,000-strong NCRPO on heightened alert.
But he urged the public not to panic and to continue their daily routine “as the police are on top of the peace and order situation in Metro Manila.”
“We ask the public not to panic but be vigilant,” Bartolome said.
Initial investigation showed the explosion occurred at the 6th row of seats inside the bus.
President Aquino said investigators should focus on the “terror aspect” and vowed to have the perpetrators face the full force of the law.
He said authorities were already ruling out mechanical or electrical failure as cause of the explosion.
“We do not see any threat groups at present who are out to grab power. We are assessing the terrorist aspect here,” Aquino said.
In a televised press conference, Aquino expressed his condolences to the families of the fatalities and said he would visit the victims in the hospitals where they were brought. He said the Presidential Management Staff would determine the possible assistance that could be extended to the victims.
“We have ordered the various government agencies and they are now working to take care of those injured and investigate the bombing,” Aquino said.
“Everyone can be assured that it won’t take a long time and this incident, like the bombing during the Bar exams (at the De La Salle University on Taft avenue in Manila) this incident would have resolution,” Aquino said.
“The government will not stop to find those who perpetrated this grisly crime and we will not allow a kind of situation where the people will have anxiety (over their security),” Aquino said.
Earlier, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they were initially informed by the MMDA that the explosion was caused by a “mechanical or electrical failure of some sort.” Later, Lacierda said the MMDA ground commander for EDSA informed them an “explosive device” may have triggered the blast.
At the time of the blast, Aquino was at the Premier Guest House of Malacañang to celebrate the birthday of his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino.
The President said it could be possible that the bombing was intentionally carried out on his mother’s birthday.
“That might be a possibility but the more important thing is identify who did it, where these people are and put them behind bars,” Aquino said.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, meanwhile, said the blast appeared to be well-planned and intended to kill people.
Robredo directed PNP chief Director General Raul Bacalzo to dispatch bomb experts to determine the “signature” of the perpetrators of the crime.
“This is a well-planned and deliberate act to kill innocent people and to sow fear among the civilian populace. This is an unfortunate event, considering that we are in the process of convening our peace and order councils in Metro Manila to address criminality,” Robredo added.
“We should bring to justice the perpetrators of this bombing incident,” said Robredo.
Yesterday’s incident came two months after the US and some of its Western allies issued travel alerts for their citizens traveling to or were already in the Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf was blamed for placing a bomb on a passenger bus in Metro Manila in 2005 that left three people dead.
The Abu Sayyaf also bombed a passenger ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that killed over 100 people in the country’s worst terrorist attack, according to authorities. By Jose Rodel Clapano, With Non Alquitran, Nestor Etolle, Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude, Rainier Allan Ronda, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Sandy Araneta, Philstar.com