AT LEAST 39 people have been injured in two separate bomb attacks, authorities said Thursday.
In the first incident, two bombs exploded late Wednesday in the central island of Leyte, wounding 33 people who were watching a boxing match in Hilongos, government officials said.
Another unexploded bomb was also found in the town, said Mayor Albert Villahermosa.
A bomb went off on a highway on the southern island of Mindanao barely an hour later, wounding six people, the military said.
“A lamppost was catapulted from the impact of the explosion,” said Lieutenant Colonel Edgar delos Reyes.
The blast in Aleosan, hundreds of kilometers south of Hilongos, was close to the site of a Christmas Eve church bombing that injured 13.
Police said it was too early to say if Wednesday’s bombings were connected or what the perpetrators’ motives might be.
But President Rodrigo Duterte said that the explosion in Hilongos, Leyte was the result of a “turf war” involving “Moro people” belonging to rival drug syndicates.
“There was an explosion in Leyte. It’s drug-related and they are having a turf war there,” Duterte said without elaborating.
The President ruled out the communist rebels because of an ongoing ceasefire, and said the New People’s Army has no record of bombing innocent people.
“It has nothing to do with the left or communists,” Duterte said of the latest bomb attack.
Mindanao has been wracked by bombings and other forms of violence carried out by Muslim extremists who consider the region as their ancestral homeland, leading to separatist conflicts with the majority-Christian government.
Muslim extremists have also been blamed for bombings outside Mindanao, such as the discovery of a bomb near the US Embassy in Manila in November.
In the deadliest recent such attack, 15 people were killed in an explosion in President Duterte’s hometown of Davao in Mindanao in September.
Police Chief Inspector Alberto Renomeron said police recovered a cartridge from an 81 mm mortar and found another bomb in front of the Hilongos church. CCTV installed in the area can help identify the suspects, he said.
Renomeron said three of the victims were in critical condition.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo apologized Thursday for releasing the wrong information that 10 people had been killed in the blast.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, Taguiwalo personally apologized to Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, who forwarded the news about the casualties to the Malacañang Press Corps.
“It was our regional director who reported to me about the bombing around 1 a.m. and we would like to apologize Secretary Abella because our initial report said there were 10 people dead. It’s not true. I was given wrong information. It’s my fault and not of our spokesperson,” Taguiwalo said.
Taguiwalo said the Leyte bombing has injured 34 persons, including 10 who were already released from hospitals.
The DSWD chief said the people hurt in the blasts in Leyte and Aleosan would automatically receive P5,000 in financial assistance from the government.
“The department will also shoulder all their hospital bills,” Taguiwalo said.
The Leyte bomb went off while about 500 people were watching an amateur boxing match at the town plaza at about 9 p.m. Wednesday.
An hour later, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off beside the national highway in Barangay Bagangan in Aleosan, North Cotabato.
The explosion injured six persons on board a 10-wheeler truck and damaged an electric post of the North Cotabato Electric Cooperative.
Tacloban City Mayor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez expressed sympathy for the victims of the Hilongos bombing.
“We hold in our prayers those affected by this heinous crime while expressing our solidarity with the local government of Hilongos as it responds to the incident,” Romualdez said.
She also urged the residents to be vigilant and report any suspicious individuals to the authorities.
In a statement, she urged the city police to heighten their visibility and put up a checkpoint in key areas. With AFP, PNA
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