Tacurong car bomb a birthday 'gift' for Gov. Toto Mangudadatu?

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu on Friday said the car bomb incident in Sultan Kudarat that killed two people Monday — including his close friend —could have been meant as a "gift" for his 43rd birthday.

Mangudadatu also revealed in an interview with GMA stringer Ferdinand Cabrera that he shares the same birthday — August 15 — as massacre suspect and former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

Ampatuan, along with his father and two brothers, as well as 193 other suspects are facing 57 counts of murder for the grisly Maguindanao massacre, considered the worst single-day election-related violence in Philippine history.

Killed in the carnage were Mangudadatu’s wife and two sisters. He was running in the gubernatorial race the supposed Ampatuan bet, Andal Jr., in the May 2010 elections.

"Magkasabay kami ng birthday ni Unsay [Andal Jr.], 15th August siya, 15th August din ako... Hindi ko naman sinasabi na ano... pero ayun may naririnig rin ako na birthday gift iyan sa iyo," Mangudadatu said.

The car bomb exploded along the highway in Tacurong City and hit one of the cars in the convoy carrying Mangudadatu, who emerged unhurt from the incident. Killed in the blast were his friend and Maguindanao board member Datu Russman Sinsuat Sr. and a tricycle driver in the area.

A suspect, Datu Karim Masdal, was arrested on Monday as he was fleeing from the scene.

Masdal is facing double murder and multiple frustrated murder charges, while a second suspect — Jay R. Reyes — remains at large.

Masdal was seen alighting from the car, a Kia Avella, where the bomb was planted, the police said, citing witnesses interviewed after the blast.

However, Mangudadatu appealed to the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to intensify the investigation and pin down the mastermind behind the attack.

Mangudadatu added there is a witness who could point to the brains of the bombing. "Mayroong puwedeng lumantad na witness na makakapagsabi na sino ba talaga ang nagplano nito... Marami kaming ebidensiya," he said.

A birthday warning, too

Mangudadatu said while being treated at the hospital, Sinsuat urged him to leave the hospital for his [Mangudadatu's] own safety.

"Noong nakausap ko siya, sinabi niya sa akin na umuwi ka na baka masundan ka pa rito," Mangudadatu said.

He added that Sinsuat's advice made him turn emotional. "Iyon ang last words niya sa akin. Pinayuhan pa ako dun ako napaiyak," Mangudadatu said.

Investigators are still trying to determine other people who could possibly staged the attack and if the owner of the Kia Avella has links to the Ampatuans.

In the same GMA interview, Mangudadatu appealed to jail officials at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Taguig City — where the Ampatuans are detained — to prevent the suspects from getting a hold of communication devices.

"Hanggang ngayong may cellphones pa sila, dapat rekisahin iyan. Hindi sa dahil kalaban ko sila [kaso] makakapagbigay sila ng orders at may pera sila, eh," Mangudadatu said.

The BJMP earlier dispelled rumors that the Ampatuans were enjoying special privileges in detention, including the use of cellphones and having an unlimited number of visitors. — VS, GMA News