After bombings, Weena Bus tightens security

Jun. 20, 2007


Davao Today

BANSALAN, Davao del Sur, Philippines — Each to his own bag, a bus conductor barked as passengers embarked on one of the Weena buses that resumed trips Monday after it suspended operation following the deadly Friday bombing that claimed eight lives and wounded 16 people.

Any bag without an owner will be immediately thrown out the window, the bus conductor warned, as passengers clutched their bags tightly, several of them scanning the adjacent seats for anything suspicious — a bag or parcel left perhaps — that was left behind.

Three days after the deadly bus bombing in this town, the Weena bus company deployed its own marshals to carry out inspections and see to it that the buses were safe. Accounts from surviving passengers of Fridays ill-fated bus had it that the bus conductor was reportedly inspecting a black backpack left behind by a passenger when it exploded.

Elizabeth Defensor, 51, said people in this sleepy town 35 kilometers from Davao City, were outraged at the senselessness of the bombing. Some of those who were killed happened to be at the hardware store, where the bus was parked, the moment the bomb exploded.

People rushed to the scene to find out if they have family members or relatives coming home from Digos, Defensor said. Who would not be outraged? she added.

Inspection. A Weena personnel inspects the belongings of passengers at the Bansalan terminal. ( photo by Germelina A. Lacorte)

The bus bombing was only one of the series of bombings that had rocked Mindanao recently. At about the time that the bomb exploded in Bansalan, another bomb exploded inside a parked bus — also owned by Weena — in Cotabato city. Fortunatley, no one was reported hurt.

A week earlier, a bomb exploded aboard another Weena Bus in the southern town of Matalam, wounding five people. On May 18, another bomb went off inside another Weena bus at the Cotabato City terminal, killing three people and wounding 15.

Although the military had earlier said that the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah was behind the bombings, the bus company believed this was plain extortion. Weena is the only bus company plying the Davao-Cotabato via Digos route. Its buses have been targets of extortion-related attacks for years now, even before Jemaah Islamiyah came to be known.

Abelardo Gamilla, operations manager of Weena, told that they are convinced the extortion attempt was behind the bombings. The number used in sending the text message appeared to be the same number that our company has been receiving, he said.

Gamilla confirmed that the owner of the company, Bernardo Valdevieso, received a text message at about 5:30 in the afternoon of Friday, saying that a Weena bus with body number 1104 had a bomb in it. But the bus had already left the terminal when Valdevieso received the message.

Gamilla said they received more messages from the same mobile phone number that said the Bansalan explosion was a “stepping stone to gain the attention of the government.” Gamilla attributed the text messages to someone he referred to as Alcobar.

It seemed as though they were in dire need of financial support and that their families are having a hard time surviving, Gamilla surmised, based on the messages that the company had received.

He said this was the same “modus operandi” used in the bombing of a Weena bus at the Digos terminal in March 2006. Gamilla said other bus companies had received similar messages and extortion attempts.

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