COTABATO CITY, January 12, 2004 (STAR) By John Unson - Religious and political leaders in Central Mindanao called yesterday on the police and the military to conduct a "deeper probe" into the Jan. 4 bombing of a basketball game in Parang, Maguindanao that killed 22 people and left 71 others wounded.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police, meanwhile, are set to file criminal charges today against Omar Romalan, a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who had been implicated in the attack.

ARMM police director Senior Superintendent Isnaji Bantala said Ramalan, known in the MNLF as "Commander Bagi-Bagi," is now undergoing questioning.

Ramalan was turned over to the police after soldiers guarding a roadside checkpoint in Matanog, Maguindanao, arrested him last Friday. He is said to be a staunch supporter of a prominent political leader here.

The ARMM police had earlier charged Parang Councilor Abdul Katab and Suharto Ahmad with multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder. Katab allegedly masterminded the attack while Ahmad owned the explosives-laden motorcycle used in the bombing. Both remained at large.

Parang Mayor Vivencio Bataga, one of the 87 people wounded in the attack, said investigators should not declare the case "solved" after filing charges against the three suspects.

"The victims are crying out for justice. They want the police and the military to really do everything to determine who were the real brains (behind) the bombing," said Bataga, who sustained 27 shrapnel wounds in the body.

Bataga, a former Army colonel who fought secessionists in Mindanao for nearly four decades, has survived three previous assassination attempts.

Peace advocates in Central Mindanao have appealed to Bataga to bring to the court his claims that his "political rivals" may have masterminded the attack to "neutralize" him.

"Itís the court that can tell, with the help of all sectors, who the real brains in the bombing are," a Christian missionary said.

ARMM Gov. Parouk Hussin, chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council, said the bombing will just be listed as one of Mindanaoís unsolved high-profile crimes unless witnesses and victims help the police solve the case.

"We need to unite in addressing this concern. Letís forget our parochial divisions. Letís help one another in putting behind bars the people responsible for the carnage," he said.

Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, chairman of Central Mindanaoís Regional Development Council, lauded journalists here and in surrounding towns for "packaging with prudence" their reports on the Parang bombing.

"The fourth estate has also succeeded in immediately projecting the need for others to help the victims and families of those killed in the bombing," he said.

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesman for the Armyís 6th Infantry Division, said they have dispatched members of their Sallam (peace) unit, among them Muslim preachers, to help police gather information on the bombing.

Ando said their commander, Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga, has also asked support from leaders of various sectors in Parang and in neighboring towns to help the police build an "airtight" case against the people behind the attack.

Among those killed in the bombing were a pregnant woman who belonged to the influential Tomawis clan here, a son of a vice mayor in nearby Barira, Maguindanao, and a soldier assigned as security escort of Bataga.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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