THE PHILIPPINES

Philippine blast kills 14, wounds 67 in President Duterte’s hometown

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 1:40am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 10:44am

An explosion at a packed night market in Davao City, hometown of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte killed at least 14 people on Friday and wounded dozens more, officials said, but the cause of the blast was not immediately clear.

The blast tore through a street market outside the high-end Marco Polo hotel, a frequent haunt of Duterte, who was in the southern city of Davao at the time but was not hurt.

“We were having a meeting and we heard a very huge explosion. The first thing we thought was ‘it’s a bomb’,” said John Rhyl Sialmo III, 20, a student at the nearby Ateneo de Davao University.

“The area where there was the explosion was a massage parlour. So we saw these men and women from that place in their uniform, they went to the school lobby to seek help. They were soaked in blood.”

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Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero said it was not immediately clear what caused the explosion at a massage section of the night market, which was cordoned off by police bomb experts and investigators.

TV footage showed plastic chairs strewn about at the scene of the blast, where witnesses said the bodies of some of the dead lay scattered a few hours after the explosion. Ambulance vans drove to and from the area following the blast.

Regional police chief Manuel Guerlan said a ring of checkpoints had been thrown around the city’s exit points.

“A thorough investigation is being conducted to determine the cause of the explosion,” he said. “We call on all the people to be vigilant at all times.”

Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, urged the public to be vigilant.

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“While no one has yet claimed responsibility it is best that the populace refrain from reckless speculation and avoid crowded places,” Abella said. “There is no cause for alarm, but it is wise to be cautious.”

Duterte is hugely popular in Davao, having served as its mayor for more than 22 years before his stunning national election win in May, garnered from the popularity of a promised war on drugs.

His election has prompted a spike in drug-related killings, with more than 2,000 people killed since he took office on June 30, nearly half of them in police operations.

Duterte has typically spent his weekends in Davao, in the far south of the archipelago nation, since taking office, so his presence there on a Friday was not unusual and he had given a televised news conference earlier in the day.

His son Paolo Duterte, who is vice mayor of the city, told Reuters that his father was nowhere near the scene of the blast, which happened around 10:30 p.m. (1430 GMT), and afterwards was safe at a police station.

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“It’s a sad day for Davao and a sad day for the Philippines,” Paulo Duterte said later in a statement.

Davao is located in Mindanao, a large southern island beset by decades of Muslim insurgency. The region is also home to Abu Sayyaf, a rebel group loosely linked to Islamic State and notorious for making tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings.

However, Davao itself is largely peaceful and Duterte has been credited with transforming it from a lawless town to a southern commercial hub for call centres and offshore business processing services.

Duterte had earlier on Friday shrugged off rumours of a plot to assassinate him, saying such threats were to be expected.

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Asked on Thursday about the same rumour, presidential spokesman Abella described Duterte as heroic and said: “He eats that for breakfast, it’s not something new to him.”