MANILA, Philippines — The dream of detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to set foot in the Senate may finally be realized if the courts and his peers allow him to testify on his claim that National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon had plotted last year’s deadly explosion at a Makati City mall as a diversionary tactic.
The Senate Tuesday began an inquiry into the explosion at Glorietta 2 on Oct. 19, 2007, with the Philippine National Police and the mall owner, Ayala Land Inc. (ALI), standing pat on their respective findings — that it was an accident, and that it was caused by a bomb, respectively.
The blast killed 11 persons and injured more than 100 others.
2 significant details
Two significant details came to the fore at the hearing — that a Glorietta tenant received a phoned-in bomb threat prior to the explosion, and that ALI and Makati Supermarket, which owns the mall building, had no fixed contract with the maintenance company responsible for the upkeep of the basement, the site of the blast.
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon proposed at the hearing that Trillanes himself give details on his claim that Gonzales and Esperon had staged the Glorietta explosion, purportedly to divert public attention from the distribution of bags of cash to lawmakers and local government officials early last October in Malacañang.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chair of the committee on public order and illegal drugs, said the Senate should decide as a group whether or not to ask the court’s permission to allow Trillanes to make his first appearance at the Senate since being elected last year.
Honasan said that aside from Trillanes, the Senate would invite experts from the University of the Philippines College of Engineering to assess the conflicting findings of the PNP and ALI experts and determine which of the two reports was plausible.
Days after the explosion, Trillanes filed Resolution No. 174 in which he claimed to have received information that Gonzales and Esperon had orchestrated the bombing — an allegation that the two officials vigorously denied.
Trillanes has been in military detention since July 2003 for leading a mutiny at the then Oakwood serviced apartments. He has been held under tighter security since Nov. 29 last year after he, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and a number of other detained junior officers walked out of a court hearing, called for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation, and briefly held out at the Peninsula Manila hotel.
Shortly after Trillanes’ election as a senator, the majority of the other senators signed a resolution asking the court to allow the former Navy lieutenant to serve in the Senate.
After the hearing, ALI president Jaime Ayala told reporters that in the process of interviewing tenants in the days following the explosion, the ALI team learned that tenant CD-R King had received a phone call warning of a bomb attack.
The call was purportedly made a few days before the explosion.
“A female voice on the phone said there would be an explosion at 1:30 p.m. in the Goldcrest area. She said it would be on Oct. 29,” Ayala said, adding:
“[The date] was wrong but the time and place were correct. The same female made another call after the blast and warned the same tenant of another explosion at Park Square.”
ALI executives presented an elaborate video and miniature model of the blast site to guide senators on ALI’s findings that the blast was caused by a bomb, as shown by the RDX traces found at the site in the first day of the investigation.
RDX is a component of military explosives.
The video presentation was edited to show in stark contrast the change in stance of Ms Arroyo and PNP officials — first, that the explosion was a bomb attack, and later, that it was an accident.
Director Geary Barias, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the RDX component was a mere “aberration” and that the compelling amount of evidence at the site showed that the buildup of gases due to a damaged sewage system in the mall basement had caused the explosion.
Barias said the PNP had international experts to back its findings while ALI merely had experts second-guessing the police’s findings.
ALI has maintained that the police’s gas buildup theory was improbable because there was nothing wrong with the basement facilities prior to the explosion.
But under questioning by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, ALI and Makati Supermarket officials admitted that there had been no fixed contract with the maintenance contractor, Marchem.
Enrile said the three firms — ALI, Makati Supermarket and Marchem — should stop pinning the blame on each other and start accepting responsibility for the explosion.
He chastised ALI — which, he pointed out, had prided itself on setting high standards in property development and management — and Makati Supermarket for being “negligent” in keeping the mall basement safe.
He also said that while ALI might have paid compensation for the dead and the injured, it could not put a price on the lives lost because of negligence.
“What was the special interest of Ayala Land in hiring experts if it had nothing to do with the building that exploded? Was it to cover up?” Enrile said.
Ayala replied that it was for the safety of the mall customers.