GMA AT GLORIETTA: BUSINESS  AS  USUAL  / TRILLANES  ACCUSES  GONAZALES, ESPERON

MANILA
, OCTOBER 24, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - There were visible signs of devastation, but it’s “business as usual” at Glorietta where President Arroyo and her retinue indulged yesterday in one of the country’s favorite pastimes – malling.

Glorietta opened its doors to Mrs. Arroyo – and to the public – despite a temporary closure order from the Makati City Building Office, which wanted further checks on the mall’s structural integrity.

After meeting with Cabinet and security officials at Malacañang on the progress of the investigation of last Friday’s explosion at Glorietta 2, Mrs. Arroyo proceeded to Glorietta to do some shopping and to emphasize that everything is back to normal after the explosion that left 11 people dead and scores wounded.

At past noon, the President went to the nearby Rustan’s department store where she spent a little over half an hour shopping.

Rustan’s Nena Tantoco, Criselda Lontok and Ayala Land Inc. president and chief executive officer Jaime Ayala escorted the President as she went around the women’s section of the store and tried on some shoes.

The President bought two pairs of boots and was later presented by Lontok with her line of clothes. She chose two tops and a dress from the Criselda line.

The President then proceeded to the main activity center of Glorietta where she greeted shoppers and store employees.

“Business as usual,” the President declared as she stood on the second floor just underneath the Glorietta 2 signboard.

Police personnel and Ayala then accompanied the President and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Esperanza Cabral through the closed-off walkway leading to the blast area.

“She was very sad to take a look at all these things. She said at this time it’s business as usual because we should go on with our lives,” Cabral said.

Cabral also noted that Ayala Group personnel were still barred by investigators from moving into the Glorietta 2 area.

Ayala said they were willing to cooperate with the investigators but stressed that Glorietta 1, 3 and 4 were safe.

“We’re very glad that ma’am is here today in order to demonstrate to our customers that the mall is safe,” Ayala said, referring to Mrs. Arroyo.

In a top-level meeting at Malacañang earlier, Mrs. Arroyo said there would be no letup in the fight against terror.

“Although the investigation of the Glorietta incident has not yet been finished, we still need to strengthen measures to ensure the security of the people,” Mrs. Arroyo said in her opening statement.

She instructed her Cabinet to submit regular reports on security and human rights, the fight against poverty and economic development.

“The enemies of the people think we will easily surrender to the forces of fear, chaos and conflict. They are mistaken,” Mrs. Arroyo said. “The Philippines is moving forward. Let us not stop it.”

No bomb but sabotage still likely

Police have ruled out bombing but experts stressed that sabotage should still be looked into.

“It was difficult to support a bomb blast theory because our investigators did not find any bomb fragment at the site,” National Capital Regional Police Office chief, Chief Supt. Geary Barias told reporters.

Experts, however, have said the blast, which blew a hole through the roof of the mall, could not have taken place without sabotage. The damage to the mall was put at P100 million

Barias said investigators did not find any bomb crater. “The crater is critical in any bomb blast investigation,” he said, adding the upward direction of the blast supported the theory of a gas explosion.

He said experts also found defects in the construction of a 4,000-liter diesel tank at the basement.

Corroborating Barias’ assessment were Southern Police District director Chief Supt. Luiso Ticman and chief investigator Supt. Fennimor Jaudian of the Bureau of Fire Protection.

But Ernesto dela Cruz, a chemical engineering professor at the University of the Philippines, told reporters a mix of diesel and methane gas would result in fire, not an explosion.

“You need to heat diesel up to 200 centigrade to vaporize the fuel and make it explode,” Dela Cruz said, adding that methane by itself would not explode unless something set it off.

Order disregarded

Ayala Land Inc., operator of the Glorietta malls, disregarded the city government’s closure order, which was supposed to have taken effect at 8 p.m. Monday.

Building Officer Nelson Morales denied ALI’s request for the lifting of the temporary closure order.

In a letter to Jaime Ayala, Ayala Land president and CEO, Morales said the inspection conducted by Ayala’s structural engineers is not enough to justify the lifting of the temporary closure order. Business was normal at the Glorietta 1, 3 and 4 yesterday. Morales said that the city government has to inspect the building even if ALI had already undertaken its own inspection.

Morales said the temporary suspension order would only be lifted once the Building Office declared Glorietta safe.

“Hence, pending the result of our investigation and that of other concerned government agencies, we regret to inform you that the temporary suspension order cannot be lifted yet,” Morales said.

“The preventive closure order to the Ayala Land, owner of the Glorietta, is to allow city engineers to inspect the entire area of the Glorietta mall and determine whether it is still safe,” Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado told a press briefing last Monday.

“The inspection is intended to determine up to what area has to be closed or until when and where it has to be closed,” he added. Mercado said the preventive closure order was issued for safety reasons.

Mercado said the Philippine National Police (PNP) has yet to furnish the Makati City government a copy of the result of its investigation of the blast.

“The City engineer’s office will just certify what has to be preventively closed. They will conduct the inspection from the blast site to the entire Glorietta mall area,” Mercado said.

Mercado assured the public that the situation in Makati, particularly at establishments “is now under control.”

“If we will move on fear, we will achieve nothing. We must face our fear and solve the problem,” Mercado said.

Counseling

Secretary Cabral said the victims and families of the explosion would be made to undergo critical incident stress debriefing (CISD).

CISD is a psychosocial intervention given to victims of traumatic incidents to lessen the impact of traumatic incidents.

“As soon as the victims have settled and are ready to pour out their emotions, DSWD social workers will start giving the CISD. Meantime, we will let them go about their normal activities, such as grieve and bury their dead before we will give them CISD,” Cabral said.

Cabral said families of the injured who are still confined at the Makati Medical Center get assistance and counseling from the agency’s social workers and psychologists.

“Relatives of those who died are being followed up by appropriate field offices,” she added.

Meanwhile, detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who was threatened with new legal sanctions for blaming the Arroyo administration for the blast, said he is ready to reveal damning information from his military contacts only to an impartial, independent and credible probe commission.

In a press statement yesterday, Trillanes maintained that last Friday’s explosion was not an industrial accident but a government-sponsored operation.

He said agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) visited him twice last Saturday ostensibly to extract information from him.

Trillanes had accused National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., of masterminding the “accident.”

The defense and military officials, led by Secretary Gilberto Teodoro condemned Trillanes for issuing such accusations, which he claimed as without basis and therefore irresponsible.

“As a person, and now as an elected lawmaker, I do not just make statements out of pique, or without anything to stand on, or to grandstand. I have information obtained from my own network of informants in the AFP and the intelligence community,” Trillanes said.

He said Gonzales was one of the key figures in the Light-a-Fire Movement in the ‘70s.

Light-a-Fire was an anti-Marcos underground movement responsible for several bombings in Metro Manila that also left dozens of Filipinos dead or wounded.

“This information is readily available in the Internet and was even documented in the memoirs of Ed Olaguer, one of the leaders of the Light-a-Fire Movement. In short, this man is very much capable of wreaking havoc on our society. He is the true terrorist,” he said. - - with Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jose Rodel Clapano, Jaime Laude, Helen Flores, Reuters, AP


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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