FAST BACKWARD: The grenades of Davao

Light, easy to use, and explosively lethal, the hand grenade, so named after a French fruit that resembles its features when it was introduced in 1915, is an incendiary weapon that has found space in Davao’s turbulent past, violently reaping lives, sowing terror, and maiming limbs.

But August 3, 1982—at least as far as memory can recall—was a milestone in local terrorism. On that day, three grenades were separately and simultaneously detonated in the cities of Davao, Tagum, and Digos. Though the blasts were purposely exploded to send a spine-tingling message and designed not to hurt anybody, it broke the stable peace and order in southeastern Mindanao.

The incidents took place sixteen months after a grenade was exploded inside San Pedro Cathedral on April 19, 1981, Easter Sunday, which caused the death of 17 people and wounding 157 others. The carnage was a reminder ‘that a frightened city can only breed submissive citizens, and a submissive people can easily lose the desire to take [an] active role in the progress or development of their community.’

Amid terror, the government, almost without fail, kept declaring it had placed the situation under control. In a heavily layered police-military hierarchy, with generals wanting to get the much-needed attention from the public, assessments were the norm of the day.

In fact, after the August 3 explosions, the top guns had to meet. Among those who showed up was Maj. Gen Delfin Castro, commander of the Unified Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) of the AFP; Brig. Gen. Jose P. Magno, Jr., commander of the Central Mindanao Command (CEMCOM); and Brig. Gen Pedrito de Guzman, Philippine Constabulary (PC) Reconnaissance Command (RECOM) XI commander, who led the briefing.

Curiously, grenade-throwing incidents—outside the ambushes in the countryside—mostly occurred in Davao City, and the list is harrowing and long, among them:

On December 26, 1993, the cathedral was again bombed while an evening Mass was observed. Seven were killed, over 100 were injured, and 50 were in critical condition. Eight hours later, supposed Christian militants retaliated by lobbing two grenades at a mosque. No one was hurt.

On March 4, 2003, a grenade exploded at the Davao international airport, killing 21 people. A month later, on April 3, suspected terrorists bombed the busy Sasa Wharf in Davao City. The blast killed 16 persons, including four cops and a nun, and injured 40 others.

In the 2010s, Panabo City also had its share of grenade incidents. On October 21, 2010, the headquarters of the 69th Infantry Division at Dalisay, Panabo City, became a target. Thirteen months later, a militiaman and two civilians were hurt when a fragmentation grenade was lobbed at the provincial detachment team of the 69th Infantry Battalion at barangay San Roque.

On July 13-14, 2011, two separate grenade incidents were recorded at barangay Pandaitan, Davao City. Less than two years later, on September 2, 2012, 37 people were hurt after a grenade exploded inside a covered court at Barangay Fatima, Davao City, during a circus exhibition. The bomb was intended for the nearby military detachment but it bounced towards the gymnasium after hitting a protective net near the servicemen’s quarters.

On September 13, 2013, two explosions rocked the movie theaters at SM City-Ecoland and Gaisano Mall-Bajada just before closing time. No injury was reported, only minor injuries.

Three years later, the bustling Roxas Night Market became a target of another shocking grenade blast on September 2, 2016. Seventeen people were killed and seventy-four were wounded.

Nearly all the incidents—it is the collective assessment of authorities—were attributed to the insurgents, separatists, and militant factions promoting anti-government activities.

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