Duterte visits Hilongos, Leyte gives cash aid to blast victims
Eileen Nazareno Ballesteros, Miriam Garcia Desacada (The Freeman) - December 31, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines – After attending the Rizal Day commemoration rites in Manila, President Rodrigo Duterte flew in to Hilongos town yesterday to visit and give cash aid to victims of the explosion at the town's plaza on December 28.

Duterte first made a stopover in Ormoc City, met and had lunch with Mayor Richard Gomez and Representative Lucy Torres Gomez, then flew by chopper to reach Hilongos town at past 10 a.m. He landed at the Hilongos Vocational School campus and walked into the Hilongos District Hospital.

The President talked to the blast victims who were still confined at the hospital and distributed P10,000 cash to each of them, including those who were taken to hospitals in Tacloban City and Maasin City. He later met with the outpatients or those who were already discharged and gave P5,000 cash to each

The cash gifts from the President were in addition to the P5,000 individual assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and P3,000 from the office of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino distributed on Thursday.

Hilongos Mayor Albert Villahermosa also said the municipal government will also give P3,000 in financial aid to each of the victims.

Earlier on Thursday, the day after the blast, Leyte Governor Dominico Petilla visited the Hilongos hospital and pledged to give P10,000 to each victims, while promising to them to help track and identify the suspects in the sinister Innocent's Day bombing.

Petilla-accompanied by Mayor Villahermosa, hospital chief Dr. Antonina Ruiz Delipe and the town councilors-further vowed to take full care of the hospital expenses of all the victims.

Duterte later attended a security briefing with local police officials, military officers, Leyte Governor Dominico Petilla, Southern Leyte Governor Damian Mercado, and Hilongos Mayor Villahermosa.

As he was about to leave the hospital, he spoke to the crowd outside, in the Cebuano dialect, saying: "Trust your law enforcers because they know what they are doing. I was impressed that they are able to immediately identify the perpetrators."

About 500 people were gathered at the town plaza to watch an amateur boxing match Wednesday night when two improvised explosive devices went off around 9:30 p.m., injuring 34 people.

The President earlier claimed the bombing was due to "a turf war among Moro groups and drug rings." The military, for its part, said Maute extremists may be behind the attack, coinciding with the town's fiesta celebration.

According to PNP Chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, in an interview with InterAksyon.com, the Hilongos blasts "may be the handiwork of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Another angle was the retaliation of some militant Muslim groups against the local police.

Investigators said the blasted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were similar to the one used in Davao City last September. These were crafted from 81-mm mortar cartridge and a cellphone was used as detonator.

Chief Superintendent Elmer Beltejar, director of the Police Regional Office-8, said the police had already identified the group behind the Hilongos blasts, but he temporarily withheld their identities while the probe is still underway. "We will reveal the group at the right time. As of now, we are on surveillance building and possible arrest," he said.

Beltejar meanwhile confirmed that a security assessment is now being conducted on Senior Inspector Joselito Renomeron, Hilongos Police chief, to determine possible security lapses during the event, considering that the plaza was in front of the Municipal Hall and the Police Station about 10 meters away from the blast site.

Senior Superintendent Franco Simborio, director of the Leyte Police Provincial Office, added that investigators are now conducting follow-up operations on identified suspects as well as the group members who were seen in the CCTV footage, on top of statements from witnesses.

At least 100 policemen, from the Regional Public Safety Batallion, were already deployed to Hilongos, aside from the military troops already dispatched by the 8th Infantry Division from Samar province.

Meanwhile in nearby Baybay City, Mayor Carmen Cari said she held an emergency meeting with the Peace and Order Council yesterday to ensure security in the city. "We have to suspend our activities (in the city) for our Christmas Party, because we are more concerned with the safety of our people," she told The Freeman.

Tacloban City Mayor Cristina Romualdez, for her part, had directed the City Police to increase its visibility around the city and enforce check points in key areas, while she appealed to the residents to be vigilant of any suspicious-looking people, especially around the crowds flocking the city for the New Year's celebrations. — With wire reports

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