3 killed, 16 hurt in bus explosion in North Cotabato

(Updated 3:24 p.m.) Three people were killed while 16 others were injured following an explosion inside a commercial bus in the southern Philippine province of North Cotabato, regional military and police officials said Wednesday. Col. Leopoldo Galon, spokesperson for the Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command, said the explosion occurred at 10:25 a.m. when the Cagayan de Oro-bound Rural Transit bus (body number 2922 with plate number KVS 740) reached Carmen Terminal in North Cotabato. Galon identified the three fatalities as Rona Causing, 18 years old; Gladzin Himpiso, 10; and Dima Causing, 62. Injured in the blast were: Guirea Danggo 21 Basilisa Anipot, 45 Marvin Nacicnal, 23 Sonny Balanay, 39 Leo Limciano, 44 Alvin Diaz, 19 Lovena Acyo, 46 Lea Fabiona, 52 Analyn Soico, 35 Hara Janine Cosco, 11 Allan Himpiso Sr., 33 Allan Himpiso Jr., 6 Judy Ann Somailon, 9, Smela Luneza, 18 Rosa Delia Garbo, 41, and Alberto Isidro, 36 Senior Superintendent Cornelio Salinas, provincial director of the North Cotabato Provincial Police Office, said a baggage with an improvised explosive device (IED) inside was placed in the compartment area of the bus. He said the slain passengers were seated in an area where the IED was planted. It was not immedidately known how many passengers were inside the bus at the time of the explosion. An initial report said there were 10 fatalities and two injured, but Lt. Col. Benjie Hao, commander of the Army's 7th Infantry Battalion, corrected the figures. Salinas said the injured passengers were immediately rushed to Kabacan Medical Specialist Center in Kabacan, North Cotabato for treatment. Wednesday's blast was the second attack against Rural Transit Bus this year, records from the police showed. Last Feb 7, a passenger was injured when an IED went off while a Rural Transit Bus was cruising along Kabacan-Carmen highway.

Extortion as motive? Both Salinas and Galon believe extortion was the motive behind the blast. “We saw here a pattern," Salinas said. "The suspects would board the bus from Tacurong City-Carmen highway and the blast would happen from Kabacan-Carmen highway.” Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command spokesman Col. Leopoldo Galon said the bombed bus belonged to Rural Transit, whose units had been bombed before.

Galon, in an interview with radio dzBB, said: "Yung motive is extortion, protection money. Pattern talaga [ang] Rural Bus Transit, mangilan-ngilan na rin. Early this year may ganoong klaseng pagsabog." The bus company, according to police, had been receiving extortion threats from several armed lawless groups, including the notorious Al Khobar, an extortion ring that allegedly has links with a terrorist group operating in Southwest Mindanao. Authorities are still determining if the latest attack against Rural Transit Bus was the handiwork of Al Khobar. — with Malu Cadelina Manar/RSJ/KBK, GMA News

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