MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday blamed a drug feud for a bombing that wounded at least 32 people watching an amateur boxing match in the central Philippines.
He did not explain the basis for his suspicions, but he has led a brutal crackdown against illegal drugs since he took office in June. More than 6,000 drug suspects have been killed, and thousands more arrested, raising concerns of injustices and extrajudicial killings.
Two of three 81mm mortar rounds were remotely set off by cellphone late Wednesday as people watched a boxing match in Leyte province's Hilongos town as part of its annual Catholic fiesta celebrations, said Senior Inspector Jenyzen Enciso, the provincial police spokeswoman. At least 10 are children, ages 7 to 15.
The military said in a statement, citing a police assessment, that a drug suspect arrested by Hilongos policemen last October may have retaliated by carrying out the bombings.
"Subject person was very enraged because allegedly, she was a victim of provocation and was not caught during the buy-bust operation," the military said. "The explosion could have been perpetrated by her allies in retaliation against the Hilongos (police)."
The military said investigators were trying to determine the others who were responsible. Enciso said police recovered an 81 mm mortar cartridge and a cellphone apparently used to detonate the homemade bombs.
Philippine forces have been placed on alert amid on-and-off offensives in the country's south against Muslim militants, including Abu Sayyaf gunmen and armed sympathizers of the Islamic State group who have targeted the capital, Manila, and other urban centers in the past.
Communist guerrillas also have a presence in Leyte province, about 610 kilometers (380 miles) southeast of Manila, but there was no immediate indication they or Muslim militants were involved.
Duterte, whose administration is holding peace talks with the communist rebels, said it was unlikely the Maoist guerrillas were involved. "Overall, I would say it has nothing to do with the left or with the communists," Duterte said.