[PHOTO - President Benigno Aquino 3rd visits a victim of Tuesday’s bus bombing at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Global City, Taguig City on Tuesday. MALACAÑANG PHOTO]

MANILA, JANUARY 27, 2011 (MANILA TIMES) BY CRIS G. ODRONIA REPORTER - PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday said that a bus explosion on Tuesday that killed five persons and injured more than a dozen others could be the handiwork of attackers who may be planning another strike at his administration.

According to President Aquino, the government, however, for now would not point to any particular group as being behind the blast.

“We’re not even sure that the label ‘terrorists’ is the most appropriate [for those who carried out the attack],” said the President, who also on Tuesday saw “terror” and “destabilization” in the explosion.

No individuals or groups have claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack.

Police officials also on Wednesday said that the deadly blast near the country’s main financial district in Makati City (Metro Manila) could have been engineered by extortionists, Muslim rebels—from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf and the obscure Al Khobar—terrorists or destabilizers.

During an interview at an ABS-CBN television program also on Wednesday, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said that authorities also were looking at the possibility that the explosion was a diversionary tactic of protectors in the government of gangs of car thieves.

Mr. Aquino said that an investigation report on the explosion will have been prepared by intelligence agencies by Wednesday afternoon after their reassessment of intelligence reports to determine if any groups were planning to mount an attack on an administration that is barely seven months old.

“We are trying to correlate all of these data again, revisit all of them, to find out if there were any indications of any groups that [could have planned] this [bus attack],” the President told reporters during a chance interview at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila’s Sampaloc district.

“So, after we have the data and solid evidence, I think we [in Malacañang], and nobody else, can make any pronouncements,” he said of certain sectors blaming extortionists for the blast.

The President added that based on intelligence reports that they gathered last year, certain terrorist elements had planned to strike at the government but lacked resources and supporters to carry it out.

“So that [supposedly aborted plan] is being reassessed now,” Mr. Aquino also told reporters after attending the 10th Biennial Conference of the International Council of Universities of Saint Thomas Aquinas at the UST Chapel.

He appealed to the public to allow the government’s security agencies and the intelligence community “to complete their work so that we can have concrete leads as to how to best proceed in addressing the problem.”

The President assured that the Philippine National Police was ready to handle any possible increased threat levels.

A day after the bus attack, Philippine share prices slid back, while the peso firmed up.

At the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), the composite index fell 28.66 points, or 0.72 percent to 3,931.64, while the broader all-share index dropped 17.12 points, or 0.56 percent to 3,029.98.

The market’s decline came a day after the explosion but industry players assured that the blast had no effect on the market.

“It is never nice when you have terrorist attacks. We hope there is not much of an effect,” Hans Sicat, PSE president and chief executive officer, said.

Sicat added that the PSE had beefed up security within its premises along Ayala Avenue in Makati City as a safety precaution.

The attack came a day before the launch of the PSE Trade, which would prepare the Philippines’ linkage to other Association of Southeast Asian Nations bourses by 2013.

Police investigators also on Wednesday said that Tuesday’s blast was caused by a bomb placed inside the bus, made from an 81mm mortar and triggered by a mobile phone, or cell phone.

Middle ground A proposal to register all subscriber identity module (SIM) cards for mobile phones to prevent criminals from using them, Mr. Aquino said, would have to be studied first.

There is a need to find “a middle ground where the needs for security and the constitutional rights to privacy can both be respected and addressed,” he explained.

On Tuesday night, the President visited victims of the bus explosion who had been brought to St. Luke’s Hospital at The Fort in Taguig City (also in Metro Manila) and Ospital ng Makati City.

Mr. Aquino also assured the victims that the government will bring the perpetrators to justice and that the authorities are investigating the incident.

The President said that the government would shoulder the medical expenses of the victims.

He ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development to conduct a stress debriefing for the victims.

The US embassy in Manila also on Wednesday extended its condolences to the victims.

In a text message to The Manila Times, spokesman Rebecca Thomspon said that they were closely monitoring developments in the incident.

“We extend our sympathy and deepest condolences to the victims and to the families and loved ones of those affected,” she added.

In Malacañang also on Wednesday, spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Secretary Ricky Carandang said that there was no gag order on the bombing.

“There‘s none,” a text message from Lacierda said.

He also assured the public that all measures to attend to security concerns are in place in the wake of a hoax text message about supposed bombings in Metro Manila.

“In times of tragedy, there are sometimes unscrupulous elements eager to spread unease and confusion for selfish ends,” the spokesman said.

“Be assured that your government is balancing accessibility of information with our duty to protect public security and order,” Lacierda added.

The hoax text reads: “The General Public is advised to stay indoors tonight and tomorrow January 26 because of several bomb threats across Metro Manila, the other places that were said to have received the bomb are Quezon City Circle, C-5, Osmena Highway, Roxas Boulevard and Ayala Avenue. The PNP together with the NBI are investigating the incident and is assuring the Public that they are doing everything in their power to control the situation and asks the Public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activities to 117 immediately.”

PNP is the Philippine National Police and NBI, National Bureau of Investigation.

The MILF, a group suspected to be behind the bus attack also on Wednesday denounced the “attack on innocent civilians.”

“It is un-Islamic and must be condemned by all God-fearing people,” said Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the MILF, which is negotiating peace with Manila.

“The MILF has nothing to do with the bombing. And police should investigate the bombing thoroughly to pinpoint the real culprit [behind] this unnecessary violence against civilians,” Kabalu added.

In Mindanao where Muslim militants operate, Gov. Emmylou Mendoza of North Cotabato has renewed her call for transport authorities and the police to immediately train and deploy armed marshals for suppressing hostile acts targeting public buses, bus terminals and passengers.

“The government must forcefully demonstrate that it will spare no effort in securing bus riders, who are now virtual sitting ducks. These are remarkably troublesome times that call for bold and highly determined counter-offensives to protect commuters and fight off potential threats,” she said also on Wednesday. WITH REPORTS FROM SAMMY MARTIN, AL JACINTO, WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL, JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, FRANCIS EARL A. CUETO, BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON, KRISTA ANGELA M. MONTEALEGRE AND JOVEE MARIE N. DELA CRUZ

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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