A grenade attack killed two policemen and injured at least 14 other people, including a congressman and a mayor, during a fiesta celebration in the northern Philippines, authorities said Thursday.
The attack was the latest in Abra, a land-locked province on Luzon island where warlords and some families have dominated local politics for decades.
A lone suspect lobbed a fragmentation grenade onto a stage where officials were seated and watching a fireworks display in La Paz town after 1 a.m. Thursday, regional police spokeswoman Chief Inspector Carolina Lacuata said.
“Two PNP [Philippine National Police] personnel were killed in a hand-grenade explosion during the fireworks display celebration,” Lacuata said, identifying the slain officers as Carlos Bocaig and Frenzel Kitoyan.
Among the wounded were Rep. Joseph Bernos, his wife, Menchie Bernos, who is the town’s mayor, and the local police chief, Senior Inspector Apdilon Galong.
An initial investigation revealed that an unidentified suspect mixed with the crowd and lobbed the grenade as the fireworks display began, Lacuata said.
“Perpetrators are yet to be identified and a motive is still to be determined,” Lacuata said, as the provincial police department appealed to the public for information that may lead to an arrest.
“Public support is a vital component to win the war against terrorism and lawlessness,” she said.
Abra, at the northern end of Luzon, the main island in the Philippines, is considered a hotspot of political violence. The military often deploys troops to the province to head off any violence during election season.
Three years ago, the former governor of Abra, Vicente Valera, and two others were sentenced to life in prison for the 2006 gangland-style murder of a Luis Bersamin, a member of the House of Representatives, and his bodyguard. Bersamin was attending a wedding in Manila when assassins attacked.
Bersamin’s brother, Lucas Bersamin, later became an associate justice at the Supreme Court.
Complicating the security situation are communist rebels, who are known to operate in Abra and other provinces in the north, as well as private armed groups who render their services to political patrons.
The proliferation of unlicensed firearms, as well as a police force often derided as weak, has added fuel to the violence over the years.
The worst politically motivated violence occurred in the southern province of Maguindanao in 2009, when 58 people from a rival family were massacred by members of the Ampatuan Muslim clan.
The victims, more than two dozen of whom were local journalists, had accompanied relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu to file his candidacy for governorship of the province in a contest against rival Andal Ampatuan.
Ampatuan’s men waylaid Mangudadatu’s convoy and systematically massacred his supporters, before burying them in shallow graves on a hillock.
More than 90 people were charged in the violence, and Ampatuan died of natural causes in jail. The case is still being heard in the court, eight years after the incident.