SEVEN members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) including an officer, and two other soldiers were wounded in a roadside bombing in Marawi City Tuesday morning, a military official reported.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office, said on Tuesday the presidential guards were on their way to a Philippine Army tactical command post when two improvised explosives went off as the military truck they were riding passed by Barangay Matampay in Marawi at 10:45 a.m.
Quoting Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista, the PSG commander, Arevalo said the PSG convoy was headed to the post of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade to arrange the President’s visit to the area when the bombing happened.
“They are part of the advance party of the presidential visit to Marawi, supposed to be tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Arevalo.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the bombing. But suspicion fell heavily on the terrorist group of Abdullah Maute, leader of the Dawla Islamiya Fi Cotabato, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Maute led hundreds of gunmen this week to Butig and occupied the old municipal building and other structures, and hoisted the Islamic State flag.
Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, PSG assistant commander of civil military operations, said the presidential guards were setting up security preparations for Duterte’s visit to the area where government forces were conducting offensives against the Maute Group.
The bombs, according to the PSG official, were meant to “disrupt” the convoy as the bombs were planted not on the middle of the road but on the roadside.
Military officials withheld the names of the wounded soldiers and PSG personnel, pending notification of their families.
Unfazed by threats to his life, Duterte on Tuesday said he would proceed with his scheduled trip to Marawi City today.
In his speech during the inauguration of a large drug rehabilitation center in Nueva Ecija, Duterte said he was advised to cancel the trip, but opted to push through with it.
“There’s trouble there in Mindanao. It is within control but it is a troublesome thing so I have to fly tomorrow to
go there,” the President said.
The President said he could take the same route where the ambush happened.
“If I don’t make it … that’s why we have a Vice President Leni Robredo. Then you can have a gentle President also in exchange for a discourteous mouth,” Duterte joked.
Duterte said he would like to make friends out of the enemies of the state to resolve conflict.
“Kaibiganin natin para walang gulo [Let’s befriend them so there won’t be any trouble],” the President told reporters in a chance interview.
Some lawmakers however were suspicious of the Marawi roadside attack as well as the discovery of a bomb near the US Embassy in Manila on Monday, claiming these could be a prelude to the declaration of martial law.
“These are precedents similar to the past before Marcos declared Martial law. There were bombings, the supposed ambush of [Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile], and other propaganda that would justify the declaration of martial law,” Albay Rep. Lagman told reporters.
Lagman pointed out that the President had threatened to allow arrests without warrants by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
“This suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is not an option of the President. It is a sword of Damocles raised against political opponents, dissenters, oppositionists and the people themselves,” Lagman said.
Rep. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list pointed out that “the writ of habeas corpus has been virtually suspended these days.”
“Many drug suspects have been killed already. These people have no arrest warrants … He (President) bloats the figures, comes up with a drug [protectors’] list, [the validation of which]is questionable. He paints the country as if we are on the brink of collapse when that is not what it is,” Alejano said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus could not be justified by the anti-drug war of Duterte.
“This is baseless. The Constitution is clear. It can only be done in case of invasion or rebellion, that’s why these pronouncements are bothersome and bring back the horrors of Martial Law,” Zarate said in a news conference.
WITH AL JACINTO, CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND LLANESCA T. PANTI