- Blast in downtown Davao City kills at least 14, injures 67
- Davao, Duterte’s hometown, one of areas under heightened alert
At least 14 people were killed Friday in an explosion at a night market in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s home town of Davao City in the country’s south, spurring him to declare a state of “lawlessness”.
About 67 people were injured in the blast that happened around 10:30 p.m. on a street crowded with people and food stalls, according to Eulogio Lagoc from local police operations.
Duterte was at his official residence in Davao at the time and visited the site early Saturday. He canceled a planned weekend trip to Brunei but will attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos next week, said Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
Authorities have placed many areas including Davao under heightened alert amid a military operation against the Abu Sayyaf militant group on the restive southern island of Mindanao. Duterte, who was the firebrand mayor of Davao City for two decades, is also waging a war against drug syndicates, a campaign that has seen about 2,000 people killed so far and has drawn criticism from human rights groups and the United Nations.
“I have this duty to protect the country. I have this duty to keep intact the integrity of our nation,” Duterte told reporters Saturday. “So I am declaring now a state of lawlessness. It is not martial law.” Andanar said the declaration applied nationwide.
Duterte said the order, which involves deploying more soldiers and police to conduct searches and set up checkpoints, will be in place until he decides it is safe to lift. He referred to the bombing as terrorism.
Local media reported Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic group based in Mindanao that has waged an insurgency for decades, claimed responsibility. Duterte stepped up an offensive against Abu Sayyaf last month with the deployment of more troops in the province of Sulu.
National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said it was too early to say for sure if the outfit was behind the attack. “We take the information at face value,” he said in a televised briefing. “We are still confirming if it’s them. We have ways of finding out.”
Mortar fragments were found at the blast site, he said. Duterte’s declaration means the military can support the police in combating violence, he added. Davao was under lockdown with police and military forces securing access to the central parts of the city.
The military is on heightened alert in the regions of Luzon and Visayas and on full alert in Mindanao, GMA News reported, quoting Brigadier General Restituto Padilla. Manila Airport has also beefed up security.
"The key point is that a lasting peace agreement in Mindanao is still somewhat far away," said Gareth Leather, senior Asia economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. "They wanted to open it up to investment and tourism and this latest explosion will act as deterrent."
As mayor of Davao, Duterte claimed success in combating crime in what had been one of the most dangerous cities in the Philippines. In the 1980s, shootings in the city were a daily occurrence, especially in areas where army-backed militias battled police and communist guerrillas. Robberies and kidnappings were rampant.
During his campaign for president he vowed to implement the kind of policies he used in Davao -- such as curfews for minors and bans on public drinking -- on a nationwide scale to ensure peace and order.
Duterte was “concerned but not worried,” spokesman Ernesto Abella said Thursday when asked about reports in local media of an assassination plot against him. “He’s aware that his life is constantly under threat. He eats it for breakfast,” Abella said, referring to risks.