The last major attack on Manila by the Indonesian terrorist oganization, Jemaah Islamiyah, may well be that series of five bomb explosions on Rizal Day, December 30, 2000 (nine months before 9/11) in which 22 were killed and a hundred injured. The worst of these was a bomb triggered by a cell phone on the Light Rail Transit at Blumentritt Station in downtown Manila.
I mention this incident because it too was originally blamed by lots of people then in the Opposition and in the Mass Media, on the government of President Joseph Estrada and then Philippine National Police Chief and now Senator Panfilo Ping Lacson. Recall that the Senate Impeachment Trial of Pres. Estrada was by then three weeks old and the stunning testimony of bank vice president Clarissa Ocampo just before Christmas recess that she witnessed Erap sign "Jose Velarde" on bank documents, seemed certain to topple the administration. Speculation ran wild that his main enforcer, PNP Chief Ping Lacson or other supporters of the beleaguered President were desperate to create a "diversion" from the devastating trial proceedings and mounting evidence of his corruption. Three more weeks after the Rizal Day bombings, Erap was overthrown in the Edsa Dos military backed coup d'etat carried out by Hilario Davide, Angelo Reyes and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Later on however, Indonesian JI bomber Fathur Rohman Al Ghozi and Miklos Yunos were arrested and sentenced to 17 years in jail for their role in the Rizal Day Bombings. They escaped from "maximum security" prison at Camp Aguinaldo and were subsequently killed in Mindanao.
If yesterday's Makati mall blast was terrorist attack by Jemaah Islamiyah or its local allies, it probably means that the old Moro nationalist, separatist rebellion has been subsumed into the global Jihad, since attacking Manila itself has not been one of their traditional tactics. It is certainly worrisome that the Bali Bombers Dulmatin and Umar Patek, along with Zulkifli Abdhir and other top ranking JI leaders still uncaptured have been lurking around Mindanao allegedly with the help of the MILF-Abu Sayyaf Group in exchange for training in the production and deployment of improvised explosive devices, fundraising tactics (You Tube videos of the long dead Janjalani brothers), and other terrorist tactics.
Today's Makati Mall Blast at about 1:30 pm (GMT+8) in the Philippines was definitely not an accidental LPG cooking gas tank explosion as first reported. ABSCBN's regional terrorism expert Maria Ressa, noted the improbability of this being the case earlier this afternoon in her analysis of the physical characteristics of the explosion, namely its very large blast radius (at least 200 meters in the enclosed space) which affected three floor levels of the mall and destroyed or damaged many vehicles parked outside; its evident high energy from the tremendous structural damage and devastation as seen in live tv pictures today, and the absence of any reported gas fumes prior to, or after the explosion, from both survivors and investigators. Eight are confirmed dead with about 90 others injured and in two Makati City hospitals.
Police crime lab investigators also said tonight that that they have found traces of high explosives in specimen swabs taken from an eight meter wide crater (actually the collapsed section) of the floor above the basement of the Glorietta 2 shopping mall in the central business district of Metro Manila, including C-4 plastic or gel explosive material. Philippine National Police Chief Avelino Razon and National Capitol Region Supt. Geary Barias have placed all of Metro Manila under full Red Alert.
The speculation about who perpetrated this dastardly act has begun in earnest. But stepping beyond mere speculation were a number of highly irresponsible and/or devious personalities. The detained Oakwood mutiny leader Antonio Trillanes immediately accused President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales of carrying out the bombing in order to divert attention from several swirling bribery and corruption controversies that threaten to sweep Mrs. Arroyo from power by impeachment or worse.
Prof. Roland Simbulan an avid admirer of Che Guevara and sympathizer of the CPP-NPA meanwhile appeared on ANC's Crossroads program in order to spout out the Party line that a small group of professional operators and extra-judicial killers "might" have been responsible. A nice old lady from the Social Welfare Department smilingly averred that Simbulan's assertions were "absurd and ridiculous." I agree.
Then there is Alberto Lim of the Makati Business Club who claimed on television that it was either the Palace who did this or the Opposition, though I think his main expertise is on the likely ill effects of the Makati blast on his stock portfolio.
For many people who won't go as far as Trillanes and Simbulan in these incredible accusations, but who genuinely wish that President Arroyo would either resign or be impeached and removed, I guess it is but natural to:
(1) suspect that it is the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo trying to create a diversion from the deep doo doo she is in from the ZTE scandal and the massive bribery at the Palace last week; and,
(2) be reluctant to consider the possibility that Jemaah Islamiyah and its local allies have indeed carried out the most devastating attack yet on what Maria Ressa (author of the Seeds of Terror) calls JI's "Holy Grail" -- Manila.
Speaking with Ricky Carandang and Pia Hontiveros during yesterday's live coverage of the Makati mall blast, and assessing video of the blast area, Maria Ressa concluded that whoever did it were "highly trained" in deploying a bomb or explosive of this nature.
She says there are only "two umbrella groups" in the Philippines capable of this type of operation: Jemaah Islamiyah or the Philippine Military.
I for one cannot even imagine the possibility of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordering such a thing, much less some rogue supporters who would act without her knowledge. She may be corrupt as events have proven, and craven enough to try to hold onto power by almost any means. But I just don't believe she, or any of her people would be ruthless enough to do this. If anything she would rather run away than fight, as shown in the Angelo dela Cruz incident in Iraq, and in her pusillanimous handling of the Mindanao situation, both of which were actually determined by the civil society uproar against showing any kind of spine against the terrorists.
For the Opposition, like Trillanes and Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel and Senator Jamby Madrigal, (who were also responsible for the Terrorists Bill of Rights called the Human Security Act) it is of course a most inconvenient development which may divert attention from them and the campaign to unseat the President, which up until yesterday looked like it was really going into high gear as even Bishops have called for GMA's resignation. Most of the leftist militant organizations and almost all of the local blogosphere which is also composed of leftists and communist sympathizers or "liberals" as they like to call themselves, are also sorely disappointed that their best laid plans may now have to be put on hold--which is why they are working up a mighty froth to pin the blame on the Makati explosion on the Palace.
But just like Rizal Day 2000, if I were the JI-ASG-MILF jihadists, this is the perfect time and situation to strike, just when the country is most divided and the democratic system itself looks set to topple President Arroyo. The misdirection game is already afoot, as the most voluble are already blaming the Palace for the blast as a diversionary tactic, while the rest of the people won't dare breathe the word: "TERRORISTS!" and would await further facts to emerge before facing the plausible reality.
That reality is that the old Moro nationalist rebellions is no more, for it has been coopted and absorbed into the greater global Jihad of Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah. If they can't get Bangsmorostan handed to them on a silver platter by President Arroyo with the help of that Indigenous Peoples Wrongs Act, then they will carve it out of our flesh, one cell at a time if necessary.
I actually hope this is all wrong and that when the sun rises in a few hours, the police will say it was a defective LPG gas tank that blew up in the Luk Yuen Restaurant near where the blast occurred.
Counter Terrorism Blog posts on this and the pressure cooker in Pakistan.