ZAMBOANGA, Philippines: President Benigno Aquino flew on Sunday to a southern city hit by a deadly bombing to comfort dozens of casualties and vow to bring those responsible to justice, a spokesman said.
An explosion near a bus terminal in the port of Zamboanga killed two people and wounded 50 others on Friday, Press Secretary Herminio Coloma said over government radio.
The city’s mayor, Maria Isabelle Climaco, has blamed the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, saying it was part of a plot to spring 57 detained comrades from the local jail.
“The government will be unstinting in pursuing those responsible,” Coloma said.
He added, without giving details, that police were “following a number of possible leads that could help them obtain the identity and whereabouts of the suspects”.
He said Aquino flew to Zamboanga to be briefed on the investigation into the blast, which police have described as a possible car bomb.
“He will personally visit the families of the two fatalities as well as those who were hurt and are being treated at local hospitals,” Coloma added.
Sandy Balagamo, owner of a small hotel and bakery that was heavily damaged by the explosion, told AFP she wanted a greater police presence in the area.
“We are apprehensive about our investment… Our business is dying,” she said.
“We know it’s not the government’s fault but I hope they could help us rebuild.”
Insurers had refused to pay out on policies over the blast because they considered the destruction a “terrorist” attack, and as a result explicitly excluded by the policy, Balagamo said.
Though the Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the attack, no group has claimed responsibility for it.
The Abu Sayyaf, a loose band of a few hundred militants founded with seed money from Al Qaeda, has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history.
These have included the bombing of a ferry in Manila in 2004 in which more than 100 people died, and repeated kidnappings of foreigners in the southern Philippines who are usually ransomed off for huge amounts.
The Abu Sayyaf claims it is fighting to establish an independent Islamic homeland in the Muslim populated south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.
In September 2013, Zamboanga was attacked by an armed group loyal to former Muslim rebel leader Nur Misuari.
It triggered three weeks of street battles that left more than 240 people dead and 116,000 others homeless as large parts of the city of nearly one million was reduced to smoldering ruins.