TACURONG CITY – A car bomb exploded on Tuesday afternoon in the southern Philippine city of Tacurong after the convoy of vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo passed near the area – at least 3 people were injured in the blast.
The car was parked near a gas station along Jose Abad Santos Street when it exploded. It was not immediately known whether Robredo was the target of the bombing or not, but the politician was there to campaign ahead of the May national elections.
The bombing occurred just when the locals were celebrating the Catholic feast of Nuestra Señ0ra dela Candelaria, according to Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the 6th Infantry Division.
She also identified the wounded as Freddie Tumindig, 42; Nicole Fobar, 19; and Patrick Pepito, who were all rushed to Quijano Hospital. “The incident is now under investigation by the police and military ordnance division teams and forensic experts,” she told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
A stringer for the Mindanao Examiner who was in the area said Robredo’s convoy passed just 50 meters away from the car before the explosion.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the bombing, but it also coincided with the failure of Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would have given the Muslims an expanded autonomy in the restive region where security forces are battling jihadists and insurgents.
President Benigno Aquino blamed lawmakers for the failure of the BBL, an offshoot of the peace agreement the government signed with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in 2014.
The MILF has repeatedly warned that violence may erupt if Congress fails to pass the proposed laws that would guide the Muslims in the new autonomous region.
Just in December, MILF rebels – despite the peace deal – attacked civilians and killed at least a dozen of them in Tulunan town in North Cotabato province near Tacurong. The police said the violence was an offshoot of a long standing land conflict.
The MILF is pursuing a wider rule over the Muslim region, but lawmakers rejected the demand and said the BBL that will govern the areas is flawed and unconstitutional. The BBL is still pending in Congress with many lawmakers making sure that it would not pass legislation unless some of its controversial items are removed.
But the MILF, which still maintains its huge armaments and recruited far more members during the long peace talks, said it will not revisit the BBL and insisted on the original draft it submitted to Aquino.
However, many politicians and residents in the proposed expanded Muslim region also rejected the BBL and wanted out of the deal, citing various reasons and the failure of the Aquino government and peace negotiators from both sides to include recommendations submitted by the provinces in the autonomous region.
The BBL was drafted by the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission appointed by the MILF and the Aquino government.
Last year, villagers in the town of Wao in Lanao del Sur, one of five provinces under the Muslim region, rejected the BBL, saying they do not want to be included in the new Bangsamoro territory.
Villagers said shortly after the peace deal was signed, several Muslim groups have emerged and started claiming farmlands owned by Christians as theirs and invoking their ancestral rights in Lanao del Sur.
Now, many residents have started arming themselves for protection fearing that once the new Bangsamoro autonomous government is installed, Muslims will take away their lands which they inherited from their clan. Majority of the town’s 40,000 inhabitants is Christians.
Some villagers said several groups of Maranao, one of several Muslim tribes in Mindanao, have started putting up markers and began claiming farmlands as their ancestral domain. The markers had been destroyed by landowners.
In Sultan Kudarat province, villagers in the town of President Quirino were also facing the same dilemma, but many also have purchased illegal weapons to protect their families and lands from unjustified takeover by Muslims who warned them that they should leave the town immediately once the Bangsamoro autonomous region is installed because they would take over their farms.
Leaders of Zamboanga City and Isabela City in Basilan, also a province under the Muslim autonomous region, also vowed to fight for their inclusion in the new Bangsamoro homeland, although many of the residents there are Muslims and supportive of the peace deal.
Should Congress have approved the creation of new Bangsamoro region, it would have to be decided on a referendum in the autonomous region and in areas where there are large Muslim communities. The new Bangsamoro region will replace the current Muslim autonomous region that has suffered from decades of poverty, corruption, and conflict.
The mineral-rich region of Mindanao, once under the powerful rule of the sultans, is now home to minority Muslims – about 4 million from the region’s 18 million mostly Christian inhabitants.
The MILF – a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front which signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 – had fought fiercely for decades for self-determination and had been accused of terrorism in the past and coddled Malaysian and Indonesian jihadists. (Rose Muneza reported from Tacurong City.)
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