Roadside Bombs Kill At Least 3 People in Southern Philippines

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
Roadside Bombs Kill At Least 3 People in Southern Philippines Troops from the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division launch artillery shells against suspected Islamic State-linked militants in Sultan sa Barongis, a town in the Maguindanao province, southern Philippines, Aug. 20, 2018.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

At least three people died and scores were wounded in a pair of roadside bombings carried out by Islamic State-allied Filipino militants in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, officials said, in the volatile region’s latest bloodshed.

The attacks in North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces occurred despite a strengthened military presence since mid-2020, when President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law giving government security forces sweeping powers to tackle terrorism.

No groups claimed responsibility for the attacks, but members of the Islamic State (IS)-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are the key suspects, according to local officials.

Pip Limbungan, mayor of Tulunan town in North Cotabato province, said a homemade bomb exploded shortly after noon at an abandoned ticket booth in the village of Sibsib as a bus was about to unload passengers.

“We condemn the attack. The explosive was hidden at the abandoned ticket booth,” Limbungan said.

Two people died as a result of the blast, including a 3-year-old female fruit vendor who was close to the scene, and a bus passenger who suffered a heart attack, the mayor said.

Five other bystanders were rushed to the hospital after being wounded by shrapnel. They were said to be out of danger as of Wednesday afternoon.

Provincial Gov. Nancy Catamco, called the bombing an “insult not only to the law but to human rights.”

“This incident is a blow to the security and peace of our province. But like all the trials we’ve been through, let’s rise together,” she said.

Hours earlier, a man was killed when an improvised bomb exploded as he passed a road in South Upi, a town in neighboring Maguindanao province.

Reynalbert Insular, the mayor of South Upi, said the victim was driving his motorcycle in the village of Poblacion Romonggaob at the break of dawn when a bomb exploded. The man’s unidentified companion was wounded.

A fragile peace

The BIFF militant group is a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s former largest separatist force that ceased to be a security threat after signing a peace deal with Manila.

MILF today controls an expanded Muslim autonomous region in the south. Murad Ebrahim, the group’s leader who serves as interim head of the autonomous region, has said that IS-linked militants who had opposed the peace deal still posed a threat to peace.

In the last three years, the greater Mindanao region has been the target of bomb attacks by IS-linked militants.

Last August, two female suicide bombers killed 15 people and wounded 70 others on Jolo Island in southern Sulu province, a hotbed of the Abu Sayyaf Group. It was the deadliest militant attack since the group, which is also aligned with IS, carried out a twin suicide bombing at a local church in January 2019.

Duterte last year signed a new law, which repeals the Human Security Act of 2007, in an attempt to prevent terror attacks in the south where IS militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East had taken over the city of Marawi for five months in 2017. The law, which human rights groups have criticized, empowers government forces to conduct warrantless arrests and hold suspects for nearly a month even without charges.

New military chief

Also on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte named Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, a battle-hardened soldier and army chief, to be the next overall head of the country’s armed forces.

Sobejana, who as a young soldier had seen action against militants in Jolo where he was wounded, will replace Gen. Gilbert Gapay, who is set to retire on Feb. 4.

“The Palace confirms that Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana will be the next Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

Sobejana led the military’s offensive against Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu before he was appointed in his current post as army chief.

Basilio Sepe contributed to this report from Manila.


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