Sunday, October 21, 2007

WHATDUNIT and WHODUNIT-- Makati Mall Blast Day 3

These are the 64 thousand dollar questions needing definitive answers following last Friday's deadly explosion in the Glorietta 2 shopping mall in the Philippines central business district of Makati City. Establishing a truthful answer to them will require the strictest adherence to a logical and scientific discipline on the part of investigators and authorities. Unfortunately, some of the central figures in the evolving scenario, like the AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon and the National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, have been accused by detained Senator and alleged Oakwood mutineer, Antonio Trillanes, of planning and orchestrating the deadly explosion in order to divert attention from scandals and controversies hounding the administration. The accusation has not been backed up with evidence by Trillanes, who is detained at Marine HQ in Fort Bonifacio. But it has gained credence with several sectors, including the Opposition and the Media, many of whom express the suspicion that the blast may simply be a diversionary tactic meant to draw attention away from the serious political trouble the administration has found itself in after spectacular Senate investigations into the Hello Garci wiretapping and ZTE scandals, an impeachment attempt against Pres. Arroyo in the House of Representatives, and the alleged attempted bribery of over 200 Congressmen, governors and mayors at a Palace meeting the other week.

Based solely on the physical evidence being gathered at the blast site in the Glorietta 2 shopping mall, the only reliable conclusion that has been reached is that it was not an accident caused by a gas leak but was indeed a deliberate act involving the use of a highly explosive material. This material was announced by Philippine National Police officials yesterday to be RDX after an initial laboratory analysis of specimens taken from the blast site, now known to be centered in the basement area under the ground floor of the Glorietta 2 shopping mall. A crater in that basement, reportedly eight meters wide, appears to have been caused by the explosion, which also caused a section of the ground floor above it to collapse, and whose hypersonic blast wave, filled with concrete, steel and glass debris, caused at least nine confirmed deaths and over 120 injured. The high energy explosion, however, seems to have also obliterated to smithereens, most of the bomb or explosive device, its triggering mechanisms and other physical remnants, such that the PNP crime lab can only reliably report the detection of chemical residues of RDX, which is a known component of explosives widely used by for both military and industrial applications. As such, it may require a far more detailed and perspicacious physical evidence gathering activity that local authorities may not be capable of, given the level of data acquisition sophistication, investigative experience, laboratory examination equipment and forensic interpretation required. Thus, there would be absolutely no shame involved in accepting the assistance of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly offered through the US Embassy early Saturday. If they have not already done so, I strongly urge the authorities to seek out and accept such help from our allies given that the PNP crime lab may have already come up against the limits of its capabilities.

The possibility that the explosion was caused by a gas leak is well within the capability of the local police to investigate, and has already been eliminated by the absence of the tell tale scents and other physical characteristics associated with liquefied petroleum gas explosions, such as fire and the relatively low speed and force of such a blast's debris. Similarly, the local authorities are also quite capable of investigating the types of relatively crude improvised explosive devices that have been encountered in previous incidents in Mindanao and Metro Manila, such as the Rizal Day 2000 and Super Ferry 14 bombings (2004). In this case however, the police have refused to conclude anything about the explosion other than the nature of the high explosive, apparently for a lack of physical remnants from the explosive device involved. However, more physical evidence will slowly but surely be gathered from the blast site and shed more light on our first question of whatdunit, so let me turn to the second question: WHODUNIT?

Hours after the blast last Friday afternoon, ABSCBN News terrorism expert Maria Ressa deduced from the high degree of expertise and training necessary to pull off such a destructive operation, there are two main possible perpetrators, namely: (1) elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or (2) the Al Qaeda backed Jemaah Islamiyah terror groups and their local allies and trainees.

Treating both possibilities as hypothesis to be scientifically verified or falsified, I have adopted here at Philippine Commentary the latter of the two. My previous posts clearly show this inclination to blame the Islamic Jihadists and the Moro rebel groups (ASG, MILF, MNLF) and until otherwise disproven, that continues to be my working hypothesis. Let me just call it the Jihadi Hypothesis.

Yesterday, retired Navy Commodore Rex Robles, who was a member of the Feliciano Commission that investigated the Oakwood Mutiny, put forward idea that if the Makati Mall Blast is the handiwork of a local Islamic terror group, like the Rajah Sulayman Movement which reportedly has claimed responsibility for it, it may be a sample or demonstration of their capability to attack major infrastructure in the Philippine capital meant to attract future financing from the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

The claim of responsibility for terrorist attacks in general would seem to be an essential ingredient of global jihadist strategy and tactics, especially after Nine Eleven since their main benefit to the perpetrators is the propaganda value of the attacks, which are militarily and physically small compared to conventional or nuclear warfare.

Thus the reported text message in which the RSM's spokesman "Sheik Omar" is said to claim responsibility for the Makati explosion is supportive of the Jihadi Hypothesis. The reported demand contained in the text message for the release of their founder, Hilarion Ahmed Santos, currently in the custody of Philippine authorities after RSM's role in the Super Ferry 14 bombing and sinking by the Abu Sayyaf Group in 2004, is also important to the establishment of a terrorist act under the Human Security Act of 2007 since it is a required element of the definition of terrorism as a crime therein.

The veracity and provenance of this claim of responsibility by the RSM was assailed overnight by a Philippine Commentary source who told me in confidence that either in addition to, or for some reason, instead of, a text message, the claim actually came in as a voice call and that the voice did not match a previous recording of the RSM spokesman. However, I find this information, even if true, to be insufficient proof that the claim of responsibility is spurious, since there is no reason for the actual Sheik Omar to expose his voice in a spoken message.

Nonetheless, there are other objections and doubts in my own mind about it

The first of these is that the original posting by ABSCBN is no longer available at the following URL:

and leads to a message that reads

The article you are requesting could not be found.

The first four paragraphs of this now apparently removed posting is preserved in my post yesterday. And most of it may be in this pickup piece from the Arab News.

In an Update posted on ABSCBN News at 5:21 am this morning
we find instead this posting (now also on the US Internet Archive for preservation).
(UPDATE) Authorities doubt authenticity of 'RSM spokesman'

Authorities on Saturday doubt the authenticity of a person who claimed to be the spokesman of the Rajah Sulayman Movement (RSM) who said the group was responsible for Friday's explosion in Makati City that left 10 people dead and scores of others injured.

In a text message to ABS-CBN sent 7:00 a.m., the person who said he was RSM spokesman Ruben Omar Lavilla, alias Sheik Omar, said his group was responsible for Friday’s blast. He later talked on the phone with ABS-CBN.

A highly placed intelligence official who listened to a record of the call said however that the recorded voice of "Sheik Omar" did not match what they have on file.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales had earlier said that they have already received information regarding the "RSM" claim and are already investigating.

Gonzales said there are those who may just be using name of the group but still they cannot just brush off the claim.

In the text message to ABS-CBN , the person who said he was Sheik Omar also demanded the release of RSM founder Hilarion del Rosario Santos, alias Ahmed Santos.

RSM is a terror organization whose members are allegedly composed of Christians who have converted to Islam and reportedly operates in Manila and northern Luzon. It was suspected of carrying out the Rizal Day bombing in 2000 and Valentine’s Day bombings in 2004.

The text message also said RSM had sought the help of Assistant Secretary Severo Catura assigned to the Office of the Executive Secretary but its demand had fallen on deaf ears.

Lavilla, a former professor at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, is considered RSM’s religious, political and strategic leader.

Based on the record of the intelligence community, Lavilla allegedly trained RSM’s recruits in the group’s hideout in Pangasinan and Tarlac province. In 2002, the military stormed RSM’s training bases in both provinces.

It was reported that before the raid, Lavilla received P10 million from Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani. The money was purportedly meant for RSM’s "operational expenses."

Since Santos’s capture in 2005, Lavilla served as the group’s spokesman.
What is very strange is that the claim of a text message is immediately contradicted by the apparent discussion of a voice call. Perhaps what was actually received was a Multimedia Mesage (MMS) that contained a voice recording. Or maybe they have decided it is just a prank or hoax. The above article claims that first a text message arrived and then someone called.

The plot thickens!

Apparently, the Trillanes Hypothesis has taken hold in some people's minds as having some possibility of being true, that is, that the Makati Mall blast may have been undertaken by "rogue AFP" elements or the President herself for self-preservation.

I am not buying this idea, though I would actually prefer its consequences to that of my own Jihadi Hypothesis.

For if the Trillanes Hypothesis is correct, it would only mean that some crazy people either in the military or the national security apparatus are marching down a road which can only lead to their own destruction, say to an "emergency rule" or "martial law scenario" that is doomed from the start, since I doubt the United States and other Philippine allies would support a regime running a country filled with insurgents, fascists and freedom-fighting bloggers.

Conversely, I fervently hope my own Jihadi Hypothesis is wrong because if it is true, the likelihood is we will sooner or later be hearing from the Bali Bombers Dulmatin and Umar Patek in a message far louder than we heard in Makati last Friday. The Jihadi Hypothesis, if proven true, also means we are now engaged with Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah directly, and that they have seen and are now exploiting the weakened state of the adminstration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which is literally fighting for its political life.

The Filipino people are however, may already be fighting for something far more precious than that, and don't even know it yet!


john marzan said...

matanong lang, what explosives were used during the rizal day bombing at yung superferry bombing? c4 rin?

DJB Rizalist said...

C4 has not been confirmed as being used in the makati bombing! RDX is a component of C4, but also of many other types of military AND industrial explosives. Everybody emphasizing the c4 angle wants to blame the military for the blast. Yet the fact is, Camp Crame issues licenses for the use of C4 to all sorts of people. have to see if the type of used in those two previous incidents is even known to the public.

lcnatabio said...

Keep trying DJB. You just might find a JI DNA there.

DJB Rizalist said...

Think Trillanes and them could have done this?

DJB Rizalist said...

As a blogger, sometimes I am wrong about my assessment of things and sometimes I am right. If you are at all familiar with this weblog, you will note that I always admit it, either way. But I do believe in certain things and will go out on a limb for those beliefs. I don't always have to be right, because there is no shame, ever, in being wrong from time to time. In this particular case, I shall be overjoyed if I am wrong about this being a terrorist attack as some of the news has led me to believe. What I have complete disdain for though are people who never risk being wrong by believing in nothing or believing in everything, nor have anything useful to contribute to a discussion or the solution of a mystery.

I think our nation is under threat from terrorists and that is a fact established by many past events. Jemaah Islamiyah is real, ASG is real, NPA is real. They are killers and extortionists and yes, they are terrorists.

You don't have to believe that if you don't want to, but believe me, I really hope they are not involved in this one. We have enough problems as it is.

But nothing you can say can possibly make me more concerned about you than about them.

explosive said...

That's a good question: WHODUNNIT

Personally, I don't buy the Islamic terrorist's claim. It would have been a far more devastating blast and carnage if it were islamic terrorists.

The theory of Malacanang as the perpetrator to divert attention away from hot issues is even more inbelievable. That would be like jumping from he fat into the fire.

If ever the Administration wants to divert attention, it would be to shift the attention of the media but in a nicer way, such as capturing a high profile fugitive, or a big drug bust and anything like that.

Clearly, Trillanes just views the horrible attacks as another opportunity to lash out at the administration. Shame on him.

DJB Rizalist said...

shame on him indeed! because of the wide publicity his sensational claims got from our "free press" too many people believe that their government is capable of such a heinous crime as mass murder. Too often that "free press" actually serves as a bullhorn for any provocateur or intriguer to sow confusion and fear.

Betcha by said...

I believe the incident is kore of an accident than a conspiracy theory.

if Trillanes claim is right, why the hell did he NOT spill it BEFORE the incident could take place? Clearly, he has his own political agenda to look 'pogi' to the people. I think he plans to run for president in 2010, which is barely 3 years from now.