Rep. Akbar dies in Batasan bomb attack

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — BASILAN Rep. Wahab Akbar and a driver of a lady solon died while at least nine people were injured, including Reps. Henry Teves and Luzviminda Ilagan, following a powerful explosion that ripped through the south wing of the Batasang Pambansa complex past 8 o’clock last night.

Akbar died while undergoing treatment at the FEU Hospital in Fairview, Quezon City. Ilagan’s driver, Marcial Tualdo, was instantly killed.

Members of Akbar’s family, Sandra Cam, a friend of the congressman, and Sen. Richard Gordon confirmed Akbar’s death.

“It’s confirmed that Congressman Akbar of Basilan has passed away. Nililinisan na lamang, and we will bring him back to the Basilan,” said Cam, adding that she was the last one talking to the congressman through cellular phone when the bomb exploded.

The driver of partylist Rep. Liza Maza and a member of Teves’ staff were also injured in the blast. Maza confirmed her driver was among those injured.

National Capital Region Police chief Director Geary L. Barias rushed to the scene to seal the area and gather evidence in the explosion believed to have originated inside the vehicle of Akbar.

“We have cordoned the scene and looking for all pieces of evidence needed in this investigation,” Barias said.

President Arroyo promptly ordered National Police chief Avelino Razon to personally supervise an immediate investigation of the explosion, determine what caused it, and give her periodic reports to her as warranted

Razon cut short a formal affair and rushed to the scene to get a first-hand account of the incident. “We’re still trying to find out what really happened. ” he said.

A thoroughly outraged House Speaker Jose de Venecia condemned what he called an “act of terrorism.”

“We condemn in the strongest possible term this drastic act of terrorism. I ask the authorities to expedite the investigation to determine the culprits. The target here is the House of Representatives, para takutin ang mga kongresista. But let me say this, we won’t be cowed by this act of terror. We are not afraid of terrorism. This is the act of terrorists, the destabilizers. Plano nilang manggulo. This is deliberate,” De Venecia said in a statement.

Leyte First District Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez bemoaned the tragedy and echoed De Venecia’s sentiments, saying: “It’s a terrible tragedy, and I am hoping for the speedy recovery of our colleagues and staff injured in the blast.”

“Certainly, this was not caused by a grenade. Nawasak ang aming ceiling. If it’s terrorist action or the work of an anarchist, siguradong sinadya. Pero ayaw naming magpatakot,” De Venecia said.

He said he has ordered a clean sweep of the Congress building and vowed to resume legislative work as soon as authorities declare it safe.

“If it is declared safe, if there will be no more bomb or detonators found, we will have a session to approve the cheaper medicine bill,” he said.

The House leader also maintained that the bombing was not connected with the impeachment case against President Arroyo. “I think it has no connection because even the opposition has admitted that it is an empty impeachment, but this will be part of the investigation ordered by Generals Razon and Barias,” he said.

De Venecia said the bomb exploded barely moments after he had left the building. “Ang target dito ay House of Representatives, para kami matakot, para ma-destabilize ang gobyerno, ang Kongreso. But we will not be afraid. The moment we show we are afraid, the terrorists will win. I am calling President Arroyo and will inform her that we will not be frightened,” he said.

The House speaker said he would also tap the help of the Armed Forcs in investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, De Venecia said it would be business as usual in Congress, vowing that he and his colleagues would continue to conduct sessions and deliberate on important pieces of legislation despite the explosion.

“We have cordoned the scene and looking for all pieces of evidence needed in this investigation,” said Barias.

Some lawmakers who were present at the scene said it could have been a ‘car bomb’ that was used in the attack. Television footage showed part of the ceiling going down as a result of the blast. A possible breach of security was also mentioned as being investigated.

Barias said the wounded were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment. The victims were taken to the General Malvar Hospital near the Congress building for treatment.

“It was a very strong explosion. There was a blast wave,” said Rep. Darlene Antonino.

The “huge explosion” occurred following the end of a session of Congress. The blast sent bits of concrete flying across the parking lot.

“It looks like there were a number of people injured,” partylist Rep. Joel Villanueva told local radio.

Maza said that the session had just been adjourned when they heard the blast.

Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros condemned in the strongest terms the bombing, calling the attack a horrible assault on the institution itself.

“This is not an attack against any individual member of the House of Representatives. This is an appalling attempt to destroy life, freedom, and democracy,” Hontiveros said.

“Nothing can rationalize this act. We urge the authorities to immediately
investigate the incident and go after the perpetrators of the bombing,” she
added.

The blast followed an equally powerful explosion that tore through a large portion of the Glorietta mall in Makati less than a month ago, leaving 11 people dead and injuring over 100. Police initially thought a bomb was to blame, but later said the explosion was an industrial accident, a finding fiercely disputed by Ayala Land Inc., the mall’s owner and operator.