DAVAO CITY: Police and military authorities on Wednesday blamed militants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for Tuesday’s bombing of a commuter bus in Bukidnon which killed 10 people and injured at least 21 others.
Brig. Gen. Alexander Balutan, deputy commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Eastern Mindanao Command, said a group headed by one Garnet Lintang, an alleged BIFF ground commander operating in central Mindanao, carried out the bombing.
Police Supt. Bernardo Men-doza, spokesperson of the police regional command based in Cagayan de Oro City, also said police investigators in Bukid-non are 80 percent certain that the BIFF was responsible for the bombing.
Mendoza explained that the improvised explosive de-vice (IED) used in Tuesday’s bombing is similar to the one used in the bombing of another bus owned by the same company on November 6 also in Bukidnon.
According to Balutan, the IED used in Tuesday’s blast was fashioned from an 81-mm mortar bomb wired to a mo-bile phone.
“It (the bomb used) has the signature of the BIFF. This (the bombing) is the handiwork of the BIFF,” said Balutan.
Capt. Christian Uy, 4th Infantry Division spokesperson, also cited initial investigations indicating that the IED was placed on the overhead baggage compartment of the bus. This could be the reason why victims sustained head injuries, he said.
The bomb was planted inside a commuter bus owned by Rural Transit Mindanao, Inc. (RTMI), which left Wao town in Lanao del Sur at around 3 p.m. on Tuesday en route to Cagayan de Oro City.
It was detonated a few meters from the gate of the Central Mindanao University in Bukidnon’s Maramag town at around 5:45 p.m. when the RTMI bus stopped to pick up passengers.
Balutan, meanwhile, pointed to extortion as one of the motives behind the bombing.
“Basically, the objectives are to terrorize the area, and extortion,” the military official said.
Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, commander of AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, for his part, also said, “[The motive behind the bombing is] extortion because it is the same bus company [that was attacked].”
Mendoza disclosed that RTMI refused to give in to BIFF’s demand for it to pay a certain amount of money two years ago.
Balutan also surmised that the bombing could have been a test mission given to new recruits of the BIFF.
The BIFF has yet to issue a statement on Tuesday’s bombing as of press time.
However, it has already denied any involvement in recent bomb attacks in Mindanao, including the blasts in Kabacan town in North Cotabato that killed a student and the blast in Mlang town in the same province that killed three people.
Abu Misri, the group’s spokesperson, earlier said that the BIFF does not target civilians.
The victims killed in the attack were identified as Ken Valiente, Anita Santillan, Catherine Villahermosa, John Rey Valdesco, John Bernard Cunahap, Jonathan Balida, Mariel Pachacoso, Michelle Gonzaga, and Michael Buctos. One of the victims remains unidentified as of press time.
Uy clarified that only 10 died in the bombing, not 11 as earlier reported.
He explained that somebody might have made a double count as the dead bodies were brought to different funeral parlors.
The BIFF is a splinter group of the MILF, a secessionist group currently engaged in peace talks with the government.
WITH REPORTS FROM WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL AND PNA