Authorities on Thursday confirmed Basilan’s district engineer, Soler Undug (left), is under threat from the Abu Sayyaf for his infrastructure projects in former enclaves of the militant group. Philstar.com/File photo
Islamic militants opposing the massive implementation of infrastructure projects in Basilan were behind the bombing Thursday of a warehouse owned by the district engineer in the province, officials said Friday.
No one was reported hurt in the powerful explosion beside the warehouse in Isabela City of engineer Soler Undug but the incident caused panic among villagers residing nearby.
Undug is a multi-awarded chief of the Basilan District Engineering Office (DEO) overseeing all infrastructure projects in the province of Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Undug is popular in Basilan for his role in the completion in the past four years of more than P3 billion worth of ARMM-funded infrastructures there and for his hands-on management of some P5 billion worth more of current projects in the province.
Reports reaching the Police Regional Office-ARMM in Parang town in Maguindanao indicated that the bomb that exploded Thursday night near the warehouse of Undug in Barangay Aguada in Isabela City, the former capital of Basilan, was set off from a distance using a mobile phone.
The attack came about a month after thousands of displaced Yakan villagers were returned by local officials to their farming enclaves in Basilan’s hostile Albarka town government forces had recently liberated from control of the Abu Sayyaf.
The ARMM government is implementing about P100 million worth of infrastructure projects in Albarka, designed to generate livelihood opportunities needed to improve the lives of local residents.
The symbolic return of the displaced Albarka residents was facilitated by Hataman and his older brother, Jim, who is incumbent governor of the province, and personnel of the Basilan DEO led by Undug.
Officials of the Department of Education-ARMM on Friday said the Abu Sayyaf is also hostile to the Basilan DEO for having built dozens of new schools in far-flung areas where the group is espousing militancy among children using underdevelopment as pitch to stoke hatred to government.
Soler received last October a special citation from the Civil Service Commission for his exemplary performance of his duties as chief of the Basilan DEO.
The Basilan DEO and Hataman’s office, through the Department of Public Works and Highways-ARMM, is currently constructing the P1 billion worth “Basilan Transcentral Road.”
The overland artery will connect Lamitan City, the new provincial capital, to far-flung towns cutting through mountain ranges in the center of the island province the Abu Sayyaf often use as sanctuary when evading military offensives in the lowlands.
Two local executives in Basilan also confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf is rabidly against the ongoing expansion of the Lamitan City Port, funded with a P150-million grant from the ARMM government, and the ongoing construction of the Buli-Buli Port in Sumisip town west of the island province.
“These projects will improve tremendously the business climate in Basilan and that is something extremists do not want because they will lose control of impoverished communities,” said one of them.
Talks have also been circulating since last October purporting that the Abu Sayyaf is not in favor of the two wharf projects of the Hataman administration, fearing the facilities can be used as berthing sites for naval watercrafts that can be used for government pacification maneuvers.
The provincial police office in Basilan said Thursday’s incident was preceded by two attempts in the past 12 months to set off powerful improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near Undug’s residential yard.
The IEDs were promptly deactivated by responding ordnance disposal experts.
Hataman, chairman of ARMM’s inter-agency regional peace and order council, said he had asked the Army’s 104th Brigade based in Isabela City to help the police identity the culprits in Thursday night’s IED attack.
Superintendent Jerome Afuyog, chief of the Isabela municipal police office, said investigators are still gathering information to determine the exact identities of the bombers.