FERRY FIRE: PRANKSTERS COULD BE BEHIND ABU CLAIM OF RESPONSIBILITY

MANILA, March 2, 2004
(STAR) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said today that the Abu Sayyaf claim of responsibility for the explosion and fire that destroyed Superferry 14 off Corregidor Island on Friday (February 27), could be the "work of pranksters" or of terrorists, "as an afterthought to propagandize their evil cause and instigate fear."

The President said, in a statement, that "up to this point, there is nothing in the investigation that shows this was a terrorist incident."

"The Coast Guard confirms this and is on top of an in-depth probe," she added. "We will get to the root cause of this specific matter in due time."

In a radio interview this morning, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye provided a more detailed explanation on why the Abu Sayyaf claim was groundless.

"There were no metal fragments found in the victims’ wounds. The evacuation, according to the victims, was carried out in an orderly fashion. The supposed site of explosion was used as the evacuation point. These negate the Abu Sayyaf claim of responsibility for the Superferry 14 sabotage," Bunye said.

Bunye said that the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard are continuing their search and rescue operations. The President has directed them to do so until all the missing passengers have been accounted for, he added.

In her statement, President Macapagal-Arroyo said that what is important now is to find those missing and, "I assure their families that this will be our current priority."

She called on the people to remain calm and asked the media not to propagate panic and untoward speculation. "We will establish the cause of the fire and undertake the necessary measures to ensure it is not repeated," she said.

The President said that tight security will be maintained in all ports to effectively screen out terrorists or bombs from ships.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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