This is the kind of coincidence I can do without. A number of my students live and study in the communities that were bombed over the last 24 hours. The first explosion occured in the town of Kabacan when a grenade exploded inside the University of Southern Mindanao campus. It was 200 meters from where 5,000 people were watching a concert.
The third occured in Cotabato City just a few meters away from the South Seas Mall, a popular hangout for university students. I spent almost a week there hosted by several families of the students. It's also where I experienced the heaviest security precautions. Every time I went out I was accompanied by a heavily armed military policeman, grenades and all.
These attacks have gone largely unreported in the American media. Perhaps it's because of the ongoing Foley scandal and North Korea's successful nuclear test? Or perhaps Mindanao is too far away? In either case, we should all pause to remember the casualities on this forgotten battlefield in our administration's so-called War on Terror. I hope my students and their teachers are safe.
Another bomb explodes in Cotabato City
Ben O. Tesiorna and Al Jacinto with Peng Aliño/Sunnex
DAVAO CITY -- A homemade bomb [red marker on map upper left] exploded on Wednesday in Cotabato City, the third bomb to shatter Mindanao in less than 24 hours in the restive Mindanao region, where troops are battling Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants, officials said.
Officials said there were no reports of casualties in the latest bombing that occurred at around 11.45 a.m. The bomb was assembled from an 81-mm mortar, concealed in a bag and left near the office of the United Coconut Planters Bank along Don Rufino Alonzo Street just a few meters away from the South Seas Mall.
The violence came hours after the US, Australian and British embassies issued warnings against travel to Mindanao and said the threat of imminent attacks or kidnappings was high across the archipelago, specifically in places frequented by foreigners.
"There are no casualties in the explosion," said Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando, spokesman of the Army's 6th Infantry Division. But it caused a major damage in the area.
A man, wearing a white T-shirt and cap, reportedly left a package in the store just minutes before the explosion.
Two similar explosives were also recovered by soldiers in the busy business center of Makilala town in North Cotabato province [two red markers on map upper right], bombed late Tuesday that killed at least 12 people and wounded more than two dozens more.
A bomb also ripped through a market in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat province at noon on Tuesday, killing two women and wounding four other civilians, three of them women.
Killed in the Makilala blast were William Singson, Rogelia Tahantahan, Hanny Gomez, Neneng Argoncillo, Romeo Pamoca, and Geraldyn Parba.
Those wounded are Vicente Murillo, Jeffrey Batican, Rene Villamor, Samuel Sabay, Ruben Panerio, Josie Dingal, Mary Joy Panerio, Ramil Amiana, Aquilino Renegado, Lilibeth Dabon, Jaime Dabon, Cristy Dabon, Jonifer Palgan, Julio Callao, Jimmy Garciano, Roland Tuadles, Victorino Eduallantes, Cora Embo, Rubelyn Enorbe, Adelyn Tahantahan, Luisa Tahantahan, Reynaldo Rosales, Ryan Rosales, Edwin Gordoncillo, Angelino Paquira, Isidro Gampanwo, Romeo Salazar, Marcial Pasco, and Jay Antony Casili.
They are now recuperating at the hospitals in Makilala and Kidapawan. Many of the victim sustained shrapnel wounds from different parts of their body.
North Cotabao Governor Emmanuel Piñol immediately responded to the incident and visited the hospitals where the victims were brought for medical attention.
The governor assured the victims that the government would shoulder all their medical expenses as he ordered both the police and military to conduct an extensive investigation to find out who were responsible for the blast.
Piñol said the attack is a trademark of terrorists belonging to the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
"It has all the signatures of the three groups, especially the MILF, which had carried out similar bombings in civilian targets in the past," one senior official said.
Another explosive device was found 50-meters away from the municipal hall.
But, the MILF has denied involvements in all three blasts. "We have nothing to do with the bombings. The MILF is currently negotiating peace with the Philippine government and we are sincere with the talks. There is a cease-fire agreement and the MILF is not part in any of these terrorist activities," a rebel spokesman, Eid Kabalu, said.
Kabalu said they are willing to help in the investigation through the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.
In Davao City, authorities immediately raised the alert level with all checkpoints intensified as a precautionary measure.
The bombings came just a week after security forces arrested the Indonesian wife -- Istiada Oemar Sovie and her two boys ages six and eight -- of a Jemaah Islamiya militant, Dulmatin, in Jolo island. Filipino soldiers are pursuing Dulmatin and his companion Umar Patek, both tagged by Jakarta as behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.
The military said the Abu Sayyaf headed by Khadaffy Janjalani is protecting Dulmatin and Patek in Jolo island.
No group or individual claimed responsibility for the series of bombings and military and police were not sure at this early whether the attacks had been carried out by the Abu Sayyaf or the Jemaah Islamiya, or if they were in retaliation to the capture of Dulmatin's wife.