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Glorietta blast likely an accident -- PNP

October 24, 2007 02:23:00
Michael Lim Ubac
Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines -- Senior government officials Tuesday expressed “a high level of certainty” that the Friday explosion at the Glorietta 2 mall in Makati City was an accident, but said a bomb attack had not been totally ruled out.

Speaking with reporters after the National Security Council (NSC) meeting presided over by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said authorities had yet to make a definite conclusion on the cause of the blast, which was why the terrorism angle was still being studied.

“[But] I’m confident that’s where we are headed because ... the reports that I have seen will give you a very high confidence level on the accuracy of their conclusion that it is in fact an accidental explosion,” he said.

Philippine National Police Director General Avelino Razon said he briefed the NSC on an “accidental gas explosion” based on “facts at the scene.”

“But we’re not discounting the bomb blast theory,” he said.

According to Puno, RDX, a component of the military explosive C4 -- and traces of which were found by police investigators at the blast site -- is also found in aerosol and deodorants, which explains its presence in the area.

“We are now in a high level of certainty [of an accidental explosion]. I think we are just waiting for an absolute certainty that will happen,” he said.

‘All indicators’

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales also told reporters about the “high certainty” that the explosion that killed 11 people and wounded more than 100 was “a failure [in] public safety.”

“The likelihood of an accidental explosion is there,” Gonzales said. He said that while “terrorism and sabotage” could not yet be completely ruled out, “reports heavily show it’s an accidental explosion.”

“All the indicators are there,” he said.

Razon said investigators were continuing to “look at all angles” but that “until now, after four days, we have yet to find bomb components.”

He said there was no crater to back the bomb theory, adding that what looked like a crater was actually “a stairwell to the basement.”

“There’s no tearing effect indicative of an explosion, and [subsequent tests] yielded negative for traces,” Razon said.

A report will be released “as soon as possible,” he said, “because we are also growing impatient, but we’d like to be thorough.”

Independent probe

Puno said the PNP presentation at the meeting -- which, he said, would also be shown to the media -- showed a strong possibility that the explosion was caused by “underground structures” at Glorietta, including the diesel depot, and the presence of a methane gas concentration that could have abetted the blast.

Puno welcomed the independent investigation being conducted by Ayala Land Inc. (ALI), the operator of the Glorietta shopping complex.

But he posed a caveat: “I don’t think anybody can evaluate this unless they are experts in chemical analysis and forensic analysis.”

Puno said police would also focus on the possible liability of ALI to determine whether the explosion constituted “willful negligence” and “criminal liability.”

He said police were in the final stages of putting together the pieces of evidence to make a final determination of the cause of the blast.

Puno said the terrorism angle was also discussed at the meeting, which “gave everyone a clear idea of where we are.”

No IED

He said the accusation of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that Gonzales and Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon had masterminded the explosion was not taken up at length because “investigations being conducted by our experts show that it’s farfetched.”

At Camp Crame national police headquarters, Director Geary Barias, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), told reporters that investigators had found no trace of an improvised explosive device (IED) at the Glorietta 2 basement.

Barias said teams from the PNP Bomb Data Center, Explosive Ordnance Division and Scene of the Crime Operations had completed the post-blast investigation of the basement that started on Sunday.

He said the teams had tried to find “relative components” that could have triggered the explosion, but found no switches, trigger, power source such as a battery, initiators such as blasting caps, casing, compartment, or main explosives.

He said no crater was found -- a claim that was backed by Chief Supt. Luizo Ticman, director of the Southern Police District.

The NCRPO quoted petrochemical experts who had examined the diesel tank at the basement as saying that it “did not follow the standard cylindrical structure of a gas container and may have caused the uneven distribution of pressure that might have caused the explosion.”

In response, ALI spokesperson Alfonso Reyes said the shape of the tank conformed with safety standards and that it was covered by an occupancy permit.

Reyes said ALI welcomed third-party independent experts who would want to study the theories behind the cause of the explosion.

He also pointed out that the PNP inquiry had yet to be concluded.

“We have nothing to hide. We are cooperating fully with those conducting the investigation. Let’s wait for the conclusive report,” Reyes said.

‘They are wrong’

The other officials present at the NSC meeting were House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, Esperon, and former President Fidel Ramos.

In her opening statement delivered in Filipino, Ms Arroyo raised the need to review the government’s anti-terror campaign and other programs concerning security.

“Enemies of the state think we will easily succumb to fear, chaos and conflict. They are wrong. We will be united in pushing for progress, peace and stability of the nation, and a better life for every Filipino. The Philippines is already moving forward, so let us not allow ourselves to be deterred,” she said, adding:

“Although the investigation at Glorietta is not yet finished, we need to beef up our efforts to ensure safety in the country.”

Ms Arroyo also said what she wanted accomplished were a strengthened police and military capability, a completed peace process with insurgents, and a firm security alliance with other nations.

Task force

Puno said the President had instructed police “to leave no stone unturned and probe everything.”

He said Ms Arroyo had asked for a list of all planned actions after the completion of the investigation report.

“In the remote possibility that [the explosion] was caused by terrorists,” police are required to recommend measures to prevent a recurrence, he said.

Puno said the task force assigned to look into the explosion consisted of an anti-arson group and PNP personnel, “with advice and technical support” from Australian forensic experts and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“This is a very broad-based forensic group that made the study. I think the conclusions are very reliable, and there’s a high level of confidence in these findings,” he said.

To back the “accidental explosion” theory, Puno talked of “a confluence of different structures that independently might be harmless [but] when brought together constitute a threat to public safety.”

“We are going to review the standards for public inspection to include things like these,” he said, adding that the findings would “stand scrutiny.”

Puno also announced the formation of a task force that would conduct a safety inspection of basements of buildings and malls. He noted that previously, safety inspections had been limited to structural and fire hazards.

Leave it to PNP

The Army is leaving it to the PNP to discuss the explosion.

“Just let any statements related to the Glorietta incident come from the PNP Bomb Data Center so as not to muddle the investigation. It’s difficult to issue statements prematurely,” the Army spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, said on the phone.

Torres said the PNP would collate and analyze all the reports of various agencies participating in the inquiry “so that it will be a clear statement.”

The Army’s reticence apparently stemmed from a Philippine Daily Inquirer report in Tuesday’s issue that police on Sunday prevented two men claiming to be from the Army from planting evidence at the blast site.

Torres declined to elaborate on the story, except to say that the PNP Bomb Data Center chief had told him the report was “not true.”

He said the “last presence” of the Army’s Explosive and Ordnance Division at the blast site was on Sunday morning.

On Saturday, the Army chief, Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano, ordered an inventory of its C4 plastic bombs.

Yano also directed Army personnel to take measures to ensure that there would be no pilferage of the explosive.

On Monday, Torres said the Army’s C4 explosives were all accounted for. With reports from Alcuin Papa, Nikko Dizon and Elizabeth Sanchez-Lacson

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