Philippines President: Explosion that Killed 14 was Act of Terrorism

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (CNN) — Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte placed the nation on lockdown Friday night after an explosion at a Davao City market killed at least 14 people and injured 71, the official Philippines News Agency reported.

Duterte, saying the explosion was an act of terrorism, authorized the police and military to search cars and frisk people at checkpoints, the PNA said. He put the nation under a “state of lawlessness,” saying he has not declared martial law and has not suspended the writ of habeas corpus, the PNA said.

“We have to confront the ugly head of terrorism,” Duterte said, standing near the explosion site on Roxas Avenue in Davao City, his hometown. “We will take this as a police matter about terrorism.”

The explosion happened around 10 p.m. Friday (10 a.m. ET) at the Roxas night market near Ateneo de Davao University, said Chief Inspector Catherine Dela Rey, spokeswoman for Davao City Police.

The market is known to attract thousands.

The cause of the blast is not known, but presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said components of a suspected improved explosive device were found at the scene, according to CNN affiliate ABS-CBN.

‘This is not a fascist state’

No group has claimed responsibility but Duterte said it’s possible the explosion “could be a reprisal” from extremists.

Andanar mentioned the possible involvement of the Islamist militant Abu Sayyaf group or drug lords, according to ABS-CBN.

Duterte, the longtime mayor of Davao City, was elected president last May. He campaigned on a no-nonsense approach to crime and launched an intense — and deadly — crackdown on drug dealers.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s “Kill List” — regarded as one of the most accurate records of the killings of suspected drug dealers by police and vigilantes — has recorded 832 deaths since Duterte assumed office June 30. Police say at least 239 drug suspects were killed in the three weeks after Duterte’s inauguration.

The government’s heavy-handed tactics have drawn international criticism. Many public officials have been accused of being involved in the drug business.

And government troops have been battling Abu Sayyaf, which remains outside the country’s sputtering peace process.

The group aims to establish an independent Islamic state on the southern island of Mindanao, where Davao City is located.

Abu Sayyaf is a violent extremist group that split from established Philippines separatist movement Moro National Liberation Front in 1991. It was formed by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who trained in the Middle East and reportedly met with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Duterte said people should submit to searches and frisking at checkpoints for the sake of public safety.

“We know that this is not a fascist state. I cannot control the movement of the citizens of the city and every Filipino has the right to enter and leave Davao. It is unfortunate we cannot stop and frisk anybody for just any reason,” he said.

‘I am really scared’

Leonor Rala, a 19-year-old medical technology student at San Pedro College, told CNN she was in her dorm and about to go to bed when she heard an explosion.

She said she initially thought something had fallen on the roof of a neighboring building. She then went down to survey the scene of the blast, about 100 yards from her dorm. Emergency teams were already in place.

“I am really scared to go out,” she said. “The roads are closed and nobody’s allowed to go out of the city. There are bomb threats everywhere and some of my schoolmates are victims of the explosion and now dead.”

She continued: “We’re very terrified because Davao City was known to be the safest city in the Philippines and a situation like this is very rare.”

Witness Janoz Laquihon told CNN Philippines he was at the scene when the explosion happened.

“I saw some smoke. I thought it’s just barbecue. A few minutes later … a big blast.”

Witness Father Jboy Gonzales told CNN Philippines that he saw more than 30 people being loaded onto ambulances.

“[A] lot of people are wounded, shocked, traumatized,” he said.

Davao City Government tweeted on its official account: “Let us pray for the victims of this unfortunate incident, especially for those who died.”

Duterte made his name in politics as the mayor of Davao City. His term in office was noted for his hardline stance on drug crime that he has now incorporated into his national policies. It has resulted in more than 1,900 people being killed in a crackdown, which has drawn criticism at home and abroad.

Maria Ressa, executive editor of Philippines news website Rappler, said the blast occurred amid tensions surrounding Duterte’s war on drugs, as well as an ongoing peace process with Muslim militants in the southern Philippines.