Justice elusive for Rizal Day bomb victims

- Sheila Crisostomo () - December 30, 2001 - 12:00am
Train engineer Emmanuel de Lara, 34, still gets goose bumps whenever he approaches the Light Rail Transit (LRT) station in Blumentritt, Manila.

But he bravely faces his fear every working day even after he almost lost his life one year ago today when a bomb exploded inside the train he was operating.

"The memory of that day remains vivid in my mind. I could never forget that. I thought I was going to die. Thank God I survived," he said.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has charged eight suspects for the bomb attacks in five different busy places in Metro Manila on Dec. 30, 2001 that resulted in the death of 22 people and the wounding of nearly 100 others.

But justice continues to elude those who were killed or wounded in the tragedy that is now known as the Rizal Day bombings. The case remains in the preliminary investigation stage, indicating the weakness of the case filed against the suspects.

The incident tainted the festive yearend atmosphere last year as fear gripped Metro Manila residents who were then preparing for the usually rambunctious New Year’s Eve celebration.

"We were approaching Blumentritt station when I heard an explosion right behind me. The ceiling of the train fell on me and I could see flames from inside the train on the rear view mirror," Emmanuel recalled.

"I saw body parts spread all over the station and the tracks. I saw people dead and dying," he said, his jaw muscles twitching as he reviewed the bloody scene in his mind’s eye.

"I wanted to help but I could not feel anything. I could not move. I could not feel anything. And then I realized that I was injured myself," he said.

The train operator underwent therapy for damaged eardrums for nine months and could only do light tasks until his doctor gave him clearance in October.

"On the first day I went back to my job in October, I was so nervous... especially when I see the Blumentritt station. Had I died there, I would have orphaned by six-year-old child. I would have widowed my wife who was then pregnant with our second child," he added.

According to LRT Authority (LRTA) Administrator Teddy Cruz Jr., his agency has spent some P4.2 million in financial assistance for the bombing victims and their families.

This, despite the fact that the LRT passenger load, usually around 350,000 every day, dropped by 20 percent since the bombing, according to LRTA operations chief Rod Bulario.

To bring back its passengers, the new LRTA leadership has implemented a number of security measures that could have prevented the incident in the first place.

"We hired more security guards aside from policemen the Philippine National Police (PNP) deploys to help monitor every station," Bulario said.

And, aside from the PNP’s K-9 units, the LRTA has also acquired in-house dogs to search for bombs.

"These dogs are owned by our dog-loving employees. They volunteered their dogs to help ensure the safety of our passengers. These dogs are taking a round of every station and all we provide for them is food," Cruz added.

Despite the financial aid and added security, however, Juliet Lim, 29, who now works for the LRTA, is still not satisfied.

"It really saddens me that only those cases that have been publicized were given attention. Many of those who died are parents who left children who depend on them," she said.

Juliet’s husband Gerardo was among those killed in the incident. She was then pregnant with their third child.

"I pitied the kids because Gerardo was our sole breadwinner. I was a plain housewife for eight years so I did not know what to do to bring up my children," she added.

But, Juliet said, the pain of losing a loved one and added financial difficulties are easier to deal with than the lack of closure for the families whose lives were touched by the Rizal Day bombing.

To this day, arrested suspects Col. Efren Torres, Amir Dimaampo, Salvin Camana, Ibrahim Guindolongan, Roberto Onyot, Hadji Onos, Sammy Arinday and Rogelio Cagadas have not been arraigned and the case is still being studied by prosecutors.

Government lawyers claim the bombings were part of a plan hatched by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to destabilize the Estrada administration which declared an "all-out war" policy against them.

But the MILF has denied the charges and it has since signed a ceasefire agreement with the government as a prelude to peace talks to end its separatist war.

But Juliet’s appeal goes beyond politics and religion. She just wants her husband and all the other victims to rest in peace.

"I just hope that justice will soon be served for my husband and the others who died in that bombing incident," she said.

"It was a waste of life, a senseless way to die. But we cannot resurrect them so all we ask is for the perpetrators to pay for their crime," she added.

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