The death toll from a bombing in the Philippines yesterday has risen to eight overnight. The blast occurred yesterday afternoon on the southern island of Mindanao which has in the past been plagued by Islamic terrorism and continues to suffer from an extremely poor security situation.
Reports indicate a vehicle was rigged to explode on Sinsuat Avenue, a busy road in Cotabato city, and that the detonation occurred during the Monday afternoon rush. The apparent target of the blast was Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, a city administrative official and the younger sister of Cotabato’s mayor, Japal Guiani. She had reportedly received numerous threats in recent days.
The bomb exploded as her bulletproof vehicle was passing by when Guiani-Sayadi was on her way to visit victims of recent flooding. She was hurt and has been discharged from hospital, but one of her police bodyguards and 7 bystanders were killed. 33 people were injured, of whom 13 remain in hospital, some in a serious condition. The blast also damaged telephone and power cables, causing power outages in nearby areas. Some government statements suggest they have identified possible perpetrators from witnesses, but other sources have resisted speculation as to the identity and motives of the attackers.
The attack comes amidst a heavy security presence in in the area for the upcoming Eid celebrations in the city. Intelligence, police and military units across the Philippines, including in Manila, have now reportedly been alerted to the possibility of future attacks. It is the second bombing in recent weeks, as another attack on July 26th in an upscale entertainment district in Cagayan de Oro killed eight and wounded 40. The perpetrators of that attack currently remain unidentified, and it is unknown as of yet if there is a connection with yesterday’s incident.
Cotabato city is the capital of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), though the ARMM does not actually have jurisdiction over the city itself. The ARMM is comprised of provinces that are predominantly Muslim, and has a high level of self-governance and autonomy. For several decades, there was separatist violence in the province led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Successive negotiations led to the signing of a peace deal with the government in 1996.
However a complete solution to separatist violence in the southern Philippines has continued to prove elusive, particularly in the face of extreme fragmentation amongst terrorist organisations within Mindanao. The MNLF’s splinter groups include Abu Sayyaf, a jihadist terrorist organisation, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF is seemingly approaching a final peace deal with the government of the Philippines following a preliminary agreement in October last year and six days of talks this July. Some commentators have attributed yesterday’s bombing to a MILF splinter group unhappy with any deal short of independence, known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, though official confirmation of their involvement is unavailable as yet.
The complex security situation in the southern Philippines poses a serious danger for visitors, and an extremely high degree of security awareness should be maintained. Public transport links are particularly vulnerable and should not be used, however attacks could be indiscriminate and target places frequented by foreigners. Outside of terrorist activity, incidents of kidnapping and gun crime also remain very high. All but essential travel to Mindanao, and all travel to the ARRM, should be avoided.