Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photo from Wikipedia
On September 2, 2016, Davao City caught the attention of the world when an improvised bomb exploded at around 10:20 p.m. on corner Padre Gomez Street and Roxas Avenue. More than 60 people were reportedly injured and left 16 people dead.
Some witnesses said they “heard a loud bang and saw smoke from the site of the explosion.” Some videos posted on social media had ambulances rushing to the scene, carrying the injured on stretchers.
“Some of my church mates died,” said Janoz Laquihon, who was with his family when it happened. “(It was a) traumatic experience for me and my family being just 15-20 meters away from the site. But thank God we are all safe.”
A few more hours later, he posted in his Facebook account: “Saddened to know that my relative Melanie Faith Vidamo Larida and Daniel Josh Larida died from the bombing last night,” Laquihon wrote.
There were some who were lucky. “My early morning flight saved me and Awi Cayon from that Roxas Market explosion,” wrote Edith Regalado, a correspondent of Philippine Star, in her Facebook account. Awi is the nickname of Manuel Cayon, senior correspondent of the Business Mirror.
“After attending the inauguration of the new PAL ticketing office at the Ateneo Building, I asked Awi that we walk at the Roxas Night Market just across the street,” Regalado recalled.
While they were walking, the two were watching the people as to what they were doing. Regalado was also looking at the food stalls near the massage area (where the bombing incident happened). She bought a cup of fruit juice and a kilo of rambutan from among the vendors.
“Then we went on with our walk,” she said. “We would have stayed there longer because there were still chairs and tables available if we had decided to just eat and while the hours away people-watching. And then I told Awi that I have to go home already because I have an early morning flight to Manila (the following day).”
Regalado still had to pack some stuff for her trip. “That was why both of us went home even if we could have stayed a little bit more because it was a Friday night after all,” she wrote. “Then the blast happened just when we reached each of our homes.”
In a statement issued to the media on the early morning of Saturday, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte said: “Let us pray for the victims of this unfortunate incident, especially for those who died. Let us pray for those who are being treated in different hospitals and pray for their quick recovery. Right now, we cannot yet give a definite answer as to who is behind this as we are also trying to determine what really exploded.”
“I think it is a desperate attempt by the terrorists to divert the attention of President Duterte from the recent onslaught against their known lairs,” Atty. Israelito Torreon said. “They erroneously think that this cowardly act will cower Dabawenyos into utmost fear and submission to panic but they are dead wrong. This will instead galvanize further support from Dabawenyos to their beloved President.”
The following day, President Duterte declared a “state of lawlessness” across the country “effective today” (September 3). He explained that it is not a prelude to Martial Law, although military movements are to be implemented.
Section 18, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution empowers the Commander-in-Chief (referring to the President) to call in the military to support the police “if there are violent acts and bombings.”
The only time a President used it was on April 2, 2003, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared such after, curiously enough, the bombing of Sasa Wharf in Davao City.
Bombing, indeed, is nothing new in Davao City, the country’s biggest city (in terms of land area).
Bombings at San Pedro Cathedral
San Pedro Cathedral, situated at the very heart of the city right across the Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Council) building, is the oldest church in Davao City. The city’s premier historical landmark, it is now recognized as a National Cultural Treasure.
The original structure was built in 1847 during the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors and was named after San Pedro, Davao’s patron saint.
Four months after Martial Law was lifted, the first bombing incident happened on Easter Sunday of April 1981 when two grenades were thrown into the congregation at the San Pedro Cathedral as the traditional Easter service was concluding.
Floren Baltazar, who lived most of his life around the Cathedral selling religious items at the church ground, told Davao Today: “I can’t say how many died, but I remember that it took five fire trucks to clean up the blood, in the aftermath of the incident,” he was quoted as saying.
According to Manila Standard Today, the blast killed 17 people and injured 157 others. There were several groups suspected of the bombing, among them were the New People’s Army (NPA).
Twelve years later, in 1993, during a mass in December in 1993, another bombing incident happened in the same Cathedral. It happened three days after Christmas; seven people were killed, but about 151 others were injured, of which 32 of them were wounded seriously.
Dory Flaviano, the publisher of a Davao daily who witnessed the bombing, said there were three bombs that exploded. The first one blew up at the center aisle. The second bomb went off near the altar, while the third one shattered the main entrance fronting San Pedro Street.
“I have no idea what the motives are but it is an inhuman act,” Rev. Fr. Bong Dublan, who was saying his homily for the 6 pm mass, was quoted as saying by Manila Standard Today.
Eight hours after the incident, two motorcycle-riding men – suspected to be Christian militants – threw a grenade at a mosque, a few blocks away from the San Pedro Cathedral. No one was hurt.
Aside from the two bombings that happened in San Pedro Cathedral, there were several other bombings that happened in the city.
On March 16, 2002, a bomb exploded inside one of the rooms of Evergreen Hotel. The explosion broke the legs of Michael Terrence Meiring, an American who identified himself as a treasurer hunter and joked that he was part of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Meiring was brought to nearby Davao Doctor’s Hospital, where he was later taken by agents claiming to be members of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. The incident angered Rodrigo R. Duterte, who was then the city mayor.
On the afternoon of March 4, 2003, a bomb placed inside a backpack blasted in the waiting shed outside the old airport terminal building. The bomb blew off the shelter’s roof panels, and shrapnel from the bomb blast tore into hose waiting in or near the shelter. Some 22 people were reported killed, and at least 148 others were injured.
One of those who died was William P. Hyde, an American missionary from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He died “in surgery from head and leg injuries.”
According to reports, Hyde was there to fetch fellow American missionaries. “I just heard it explode to my side,” recalled American missionary Barbara Wallis Stevens, who was wounded slightly. “I was carrying my infant son, so I grabbed my daughter and picked her up and ran away. I was afraid there could be more bombs.”
Barely a month later, on April 3, another bomb – which was placed in a barbecue stall – detonated at the entrance of Sasa wharf, the main dock for Davao City, where cargo ships and passenger ferries land. About 16 perished, including four policemen, a nun, and children. In addition, 46 others were injured.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then the president, said of the incident: “This is a grim reminder that we must always be alert and watchful, and those who wish to do us harm in a manner that creates a wide swatch of fear must not intimidate us.”
She urged the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to do a crackdown on the perpetrators.
“The 2003 twin bombings triggered of a series of mystery bombings all over Mindanao,” Sunstar Davao’s Tyrone Velez wrote. “The Mindanao Truth Commission probed that all over, arrests were made on Moro civilians as suspects, but all were released later on for lack of evidence. The Moro civilians testified that they were forced and assaulted by investigators to admit to the crimes.”
On February 14, 2005, while most lovers were busy having their Valentine’s Day celebration, an improvised explosive device exploded and ripped the Davao City Overland Terminal in Ecoland at around 6 in the evening. A 12-year-old vendor was killed. The incident was part of a series of bombings that were executed in a shopping mall in General Santos City and in a bus in the Makati financial district.
“These incidents clearly exposed the bankruptcy of the terrorists’ cause,” Atty. Jesus Dureza, then the chair of Mindanao Economic Development Council, stressed. “They should not be allowed to rule our lives.”
On September 17, 2013, two bombs exploded inside the cinemas. The first one happened at SM Davao Cinema-1, with the improvised explosive device placed on the chair. The second incident occurred at Gaisano Cinema 5. Police investigators found the explosives were placed in beverage containers.
No one perished from both bombings, although five people from the Gaisano blast were brought to the hospital after they temporarily lost hearing because of a loud explosion. They were released later on.
“Through all these attacks, Davaoeños have become much stronger and united,” veteran journalist Editha Caduaya observed.