MANILA, Philippines - An improvised bomb was found yesterday in a trash can some 200 meters from the United States embassy on Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
The discovery came as government troops were chasing retreating members of the Maute group, which had taken over a town in Lanao del Sur.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa dismissed a destabilization scenario and squelched insinuation that the bomb discovery was staged to justify a declaration of martial law.
“We will not use an incident to bring undue harm to the people so that the government can declare martial law. We will not recommend to the President to declare martial law,” a visibly irked Dela Rosa said in response to a reporter’s question.
Malacañang, through presidential communications
secretary Martin Andanar, also assuaged the public’s fear of more terror attacks.
“The PNP is on top of the situation and shall beef up security measures in public places, especially where there are big crowds,” Andanar said in a statement. “We assure the public that this incident should not be cause for alarm. Business and work continue as normal.”
National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) director Chief Supt. Oscar Albayalde said street sweeper Ely Garcia found the explosive device at around 6:45 a.m.
Garcia immediately reported her find, which consisted of a cellular phone, with black and red wirings attached to it and connected to a black circular object covered with electrical and packing tapes.
Albayalde said elements of the Explosive and Ordnance Division (EOD) of the Manila Police District (MPD) arrived at the scene 15 minutes later and sealed off the stretch of Roxas Boulevard between Kalaw Avenue and Pedro Gil street after a bomb sniffing dog sat by the object, confirming it was a bomb.
“The EOD conducted paneling and implemented the render safe procedure (RSP) and evacuated the area of people as they began defusing the bomb,” Albayalde said.
The bomb disposal team doused the improvised explosive device (IED) with water, and made it disintegrate in 35 minutes, Albayalde said.
“An eyewitness said a taxi stopped several meters from the gate of the US embassy around 2 a.m., a man got out and dumped something in the pile of garbage before speeding down the southbound lane of Roxas Boulevard,” said MPD director Senior Supt. Joel Napoleon Coronel.
Police declared the area safe at 7:45 a.m. and reopened the affected portion of Roxas Boulevard and Kalaw Avenue to traffic.
In a statement, US embassy press attaché Molly Koscina thanked Garcia for the discovery of the bomb. “We are thankful that the municipal employee and the PNP took quick and appropriate action to ensure the safety of all,” Koscina said.
The IED – consisting of an 81mm mortar, cellphone battery and SIM card, blasting cap and nine-volt battery – is now in the safekeeping of the MPD EOD, the NCRPO chief said.
Albayalde doused speculation the bomb was intended for the US embassy.
“It has nothing to do with the US embassy. As far as we know, had the bomb exploded, it could not reach the embassy building because it has only a 100-meter radius,” Albayalde said in an interview.
The NCRPO chief admitted the bomb components were similar to the ones used by the Maute group in the Davao City blast months ago, which killed 15 people and wounded several others.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla admitted there were similarities but stressed they have no additional information to support such claim.
“You know the signature of the bomb may be similar to the bomb used by the Maute, so there is a possibility, but we don’t have information to support that yet. The police is very much in charge of the metropolis for security and we defer to them to lead the investigation, so let’s wait for their findings,” said Padilla.
“So if the chief PNP says this, then he must have a basis to have said that but for us, we continue to monitor and we’ll just assist,” he added.
Malacañang also shrugged off notions that the discovery of the IED near the embassy was meant to lay the predicate for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
“The reaction of opposition lawmakers that the discovery of IED near the US embassy along with the movement of the Maute group may be laying a foundation for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is reading too much into the situation,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
Andanar, for his part, maintained that the President does not find any compelling reason to suspend the writ of habeas corpus at this point.
“As a strong advocate of the rule of law, he is fully aware of the limits of presidential powers,” he said. With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago