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Philippines: Palawan bomb attacks “Political, Extortion, or, Sabotage”

Puerto Princesa City:  In this City of three bays, tens of thousands of tourists fill the beaches, hotels, and, inn’s – scores more are in public places enjoying a planned events while locals try to observe Holy Week. I grew up in part here – this is my hometown if any place was in my eclectic years of being part of family that moved a lot across the globe. 

Palawan however for my family was always home. the one constant was Palawan.Hence hearing horrible news from home I called, checked, cross checked and verified information repeatedly on the reports.

The issue of two non-fatal bomb attacks are quickly brushed off by most people. It is a part of life in many parts of the Philippines. IED’s have hit communities in Mindanao and other areas like the Visayas for a number of years. Most are used by rebel or terrorist groups – but – history has shown it has become tools of criminal gangs and extortion groups as well as rival political factions.

[]… law enforcement source based on PNP internal report/ photo’s post blast EOD observation.  “package type – non fragmentation device. powder used no nails, or improvised shrapnel. Weapon/device placed within secondary casing indicating non-lethal intent. typical of political groups or extortion related attacks of northern mindanao and visayas. ”

Construction seems to be similar to those used by CPP-NPA but the design is often copied by political intent groups or extortion criminatypes in the PI. Most major terror groups in region ie Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayaf and RSG use more lethal mass casualty type attacks. Other groups such as MILF and renegade MNILF use improvised fragmentation ordinance.

 bottom line: big bang – but not traditional terror group – extortion, destabilization, or, chaos type attack. …[]

Source Law enforcement counter terrorism 


Investigators and experts say the Palawan type of devices used seem more and more to lead investigators to see from the type of weapons a ‘political color’ in these bomb attacks.


Homemade: Typically this uses devices that are called at times pressure-cooker bombs, socket bombs, pipe bombs, bucket bombs, etc. The devices are used more for the act of terrorizing the population rather than for fatal causes, placed in front of governmental offices, street corners or road sides. Mainly, the home-made IEDs were responsible for destruction of structures targeted by rebel groups and used in spreading terror among the public and destabilizing the local economy. In areas for example where displacing the economy allows for groups to gain control after disrupting local trade.

What from initial reports is being described as a “Blast bomb” is a term first used in Northern Ireland for a type of improvised explosive device More specifically, these devices are usually a form of homemade explosive, which is thrown at a target or is modified to blow up using a cell phone as a trigger.

These devices have been used in a number of public order situations, and in attacks on the Police and Army. Ordinary fireworks are sometimes used as a base or in similar fashion to blast bombs. Such devices which are not packed with nails are referred to as noise bombs. In some cases fueled by fuel and fertilizers mixed with basic blasting caps or triggers.

Modified ordinance devices: Artillery or mortar shells or even bombs from aircraft are typical of these devices they are often used for wide spread destruction or mass casualty. It is typical that these are used often versus convoys or vehicles the type is often seen as a product of conflict zones where unexploded ordinance is often found.

The use and characteristics of these have included the following:

  • Thrown in front of approaching vehicles from roadside.
  • Usually thrown by males-who are not always adults.
  • Emplaced in potholes (covered with dirt).
  • Emplaced along MSRs and alternate supply routes (targeting vehicles).
  • Employed along unimproved roads (targeting patrols).
  • Employed with 81 or 60-mm and larger artillery or mortar projectiles.
  • Found alone or in groups.
  • IEDs behind which are placed cinder blocks or piles of sand to direct blast into the kill zone.
  • Command detonated-either by wire or remote device.
  • Time-delay triggered IEDs. IEDs that can be detonated by cordless phone from a car
  • (allows for mobile firing platform and prevents tracing or triangulation).
  • source: GlobalSecurity.org

Advanced IED’s or explosive devices: Typical of advanced groups and highly skilled bomb makers here the composition of the device often tells the story as to who is likley behind the attack based on types of materials used.

PETN/Fuse wire bombs:  Made from industrial blasting fuse wire used in mining and construction. It is high speed explosive and a controlled substance but can be smuggled past untrained inspectors who might confuse the device for electrical wiring.

C4/SEMTEX/RDX DEVICES: While often linked to right wing factions the numbers of weapons made from these explosives are increasing as skill sets are transferred between rebel groups and factions.

  • RDX is military grade explosive extracted from old bombs or defunct ordinance but at times is often linked to government stockpiles.
  • C4 is a highly controlled and inventories plastic explosive limited to police demolition units or them military. But some have been reported smuggled from other areas of the region.
  • SEMTEX is often linked to the middle east and former USSR – it is thin, mold-able and has been rarely seen in the Philippine terror campaigns except for limited use in a few cases.

TNT and other manufactured explosives are sometimes found in advanced devices as well but also are some liquid formed devices such as Nitroglycerin.

Palawan: newly developed and largely insurgency free

One has to remember that this province is a place where when most of the country had telephones and 24 hour a day power it was not til the late 1990′s that power reached most of the island and cell phones came into wide spread use as well the media and internet access became part of daily life. In many parts in particular in isolated communities migrants flowing in remark how rough roads are or that power or land line phone service is not viable much to the chagrin of island born locals who laugh of ‘tender-foots’ for not knowing that a few years before the very roads they drove over didn’t exist.

Most communities here have been largely free of insurgent activity except for some areas in the far southern reaches of Palawan which was once a active area of the Moro Islanic Liberation Front. Other areas have a scattering of communist new peoples army rebels. Mostly home grown factions however increasingly as the military is reaching a higher level of success in the Visayas and Mindoro. Rebel factions have moved some expansion into the island province – some incidents have included the use of IED’s the most recent a attack versus a police chief inspector and his team while traveling along a roadway in northern Palawan in 2010.

Last month a ‘explosion’ occurred in Palawan at the world famous underground river. A recent winner of a world wide contest in a search for the worlds seven wonders of nature. Its high profile automatically makes it a target for terror. But security measures there are strict – and the incident was ordered sanitized. with no injuries and only limited damage to a parked pick up truck the attack was seen likely as the handiwork of local groups. The goal was per a Philippine National Police source to draw out the suspects or have someone make public claims of responsibility or denial.

[]… ” So now we have the bombing events in the last two weeks. First a bomb exploded in the parking lot in Sabang ( underground river) alleged to have been triggered by a cell phone. Another bomb was discovered outside a restaurant in Sabang also, but failed to explode. The devices were crude by almost any standard.Bomb builders are serial folks they continue to do more and more until they kill or injure themselves or a lot of other people.

The local PNP ( police) down played the incident by saying it was a radiator on a jeepny that exploded. This is a bad example of trying to color any incident. The truth will always come out and now no one will trust any reporting from the PNP, or look upon them as totally incompetent. The tourists who are planning a vacation all use the Internet and the story is all over it, so much for trying to contain or manage such an event. So true to my prediction another bomb exploded outside a pension house in El Nido yesterday. This time there were injuries. Three were wounded and that included two tourists as reported in the GMA news.” …[] Retired special forces officer based in Palawan