Souvenir quest triggered fatal blast

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2012, 12:00am


An explosion which killed four people in a Manila suburb a week ago was triggered when bomb squad policemen, allegedly seeking an illicit souvenir, tried to dismantle an artillery shell by using a welder.

Initial reports of the blast in Taguig City in suburban Manila said members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force Explosives Ordnance Division had been killed trying to defuse a bomb. But investigations revealed they had actually found an 81mm mortar round and brought it to a scrapyard in a crowded neighbourhood.

Witnesses said the policemen first asked a worker to take the finned shell apart using a wrench, and when that didn't work, pressured him into using a welder.

The resulting blast killed police officers Elizalde Bisaya and Jose Torralba, ironworks shop owner Crisanto Daguio and Riza Romualdo, who owned a bakery nearby. Nine other bystanders were wounded.

Officer Arnold Mayo, the lone bomb squad member who survived and is in hospital with second-degree burns, could face sanctions, said Chief Superintendent Catalino Uy, head of the special action force.

'They [the policemen] should have cordoned off the area where the explosive was found, but instead, they brought it to a busy area where they attempted to defuse it,' Uy said.

Uy also said the procedure was unauthorised. He said the three had not told their superiors what they were doing and had instead asked for permission to go to a bank.

Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano criticised authorities for initially saying the three officers had been trying to defuse a bomb. 'I think they wanted to dismantle it and use it for other purposes,' she said. Dismantled mortar rounds are turned into saleable souvenirs such as lampshades.

Cayetano said on Monday that the city government was going to file criminal charges against the surviving policeman.

The blast in Taguig happened two days after an explosion rocked an empty site in nearby Makati City. Police said the Makati blast was also caused by an 81mm mortar round attached to an alarm clock.