Mindanao Development Authority Chairman Manny Pinol has blamed the burning of a passenger bus in North Cotabato on a suspected terror group engaged in extortion.
“Terror rears its ugly head again after almost two years of relative peace and security in Central Mindanao,” Pinol said in a statement, as the burning killed three passengers who were trapped inside the bus.
A report submitted to the MinDA by M’lang Vice Mayor Joselito Piñol, who responded to the scene soon after the incident, said two others were injured, including an old woman.
The bus, owned by Yellow Bus Line based in Koronadal, South Cotabato, was traveling along the national highway in Bialong, M’lang when it stopped to allow the bus inspector to alight, according to police reports quoted by Vice Mayor Piñol.
He said one of the suspects, who was riding in tandem on a motorcycle, entered the bus and doused gasoline on it, then alighted and escaped.
The bus only had 10 passengers, but those who were killed and injured were trapped inside the burning bus, in full view of civilians who watched helplessly, MinDA chief Pinol said.
Firemen that rushed to the scene failed to save the victims, as the fire gutted the bus quickly.
Last month, another YBL bus was bombed in Tulunan town, killing a vendor by the side of the highway.
“While the bus company owners have not confirmed it, the incidents are believed to have been perpetrated by a terror group involved in extortion victimizing transport groups, business establishments, and even several local governments in the past,” Pinol said, without identifying the terrorists.
The group demanded money with the threat of undertaking bombings if the demands were not met, he added.
“The group was inactive for some time until the recent closure of three huge banana plantations in Central Mindanao, which dislocated some 3,500 workers, many of them former rebel combatants,” Pinol said.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process had earlier warned that the joblessness and the economic difficulties in the area could threaten the peace and security of the area.
“I call on all government agencies operating in the area to help the MinDA in implementing the instructions of President Rodrigo Duterte to ensure the sustainability of our peace gains in the region,” Pinol said.
“We cannot go back to the days of terror which stunted our economic growth and made the lives of our people miserable,” he added.