The Davao Explosion: What I Saw Is Our Country’s Nightmare by Fr. Jboy Gonzales, SJ

The Davao Explosion: What I Saw Is Our Country's Nightmare by Fr. JBoy Gonzales, SJ.

At four in the morning on the 31st of August 2016, I flew out of Manila; at a quarter before six, we were hovering over the mountains of Mindanao. When a sliver of morning light illumined the serene landscape of Davao del Norte, welcoming me to my new mission, I said to myself, “This is gonna be exciting!”

Two days later across my residence, a bomb exploded.

I was horrified. It was around 10:30 in the evening. The sound of the blast reverberated at every nook and cranny of the Ateneo de Davao University. It came from a portion of Roxas Avenue, the massage area of the Night Market that opens from 6:00 PM and closes at 11:00 PM.

On a Friday night, the long rows of food stalls with makeshift tables and monobloc chairs were always full of people. The food was very cheap: a glass of lemonade was at Php 10.00; a stick of barbecue with rice is around Php 20.00. For people on a budget, the Roxas Night Market was heaven. Except on that Friday night on the 2nd of September — that street was hell.

From my room on the top floor, I heard screaming and saw frenzied movements on the street below. I took photos of the aftermath: people were running in every direction; some froze in shock; bodies were strewn all over the place. Tables and chairs were overturned, and I could see some blood on the street where a few minutes ago massages were offered to the weary.

For a moment, time stood still. Then I heard the sirens from police cars and ambulances. A fire truck skidded on the parallel side of Roxas Avenue. The street had an island of trees at its center. Some civilians with cars helped bring the wounded to the hospitals. Later, ambulances would field bloodied survivors to other hospitals, while those who sustained minor wounds were admitted to the Ateneo’s clinic.

But those who did not make it remained where they were. The scene had to be examined untouched. In less than an hour, the area was cordoned off. It seemed that those who were valuable witnesses, but were not wounded were asked to stay. Those outside of the crime scene were asked to leave.

Ateneo de Davao locked down the whole campus immediately. No one was allowed to go out of the buildings or to go into the cordoned area. I was, at this time, on the ground floor taking these photos that you can see below, which I also uploaded on Twitter.

The view from above.
The view from above.
A closer look.
A closer look.
SWAT operatives securing the area.
SWAT operatives securing the area.

At around 11:30 PM, all we knew were unconfirmed numbers: 30 or more people were being loaded into ambulances; the dead count at this time was nine. But I knew the numbers would increase in due time. People were shocked and traumatized. One student asked me in disbelief, “How could this happen? This is a peaceful city!” I was (and still is) a priest, and I had no answer.

It took some hours before I saw government officials on the scene. The fault was mine: I was new to the place, so I could not identify officials who could have been there before this first photo I took of an obvious public leader. What gave him away was this: media practitioners rushed to interview him. He was, I learned, Vice Mayor Paolo Z. Duterte of Davao City.

Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.
Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.

Sad and disillusioned, I retired to my room at 2 AM, a few minutes before the President came to visit. I knew he was in Davao then. But I wasn’t interested: the night was cold and quiet. The body bags have been brought to wherever they should be. Only the media, police and other forces particularly concerned about what happened remained. But the quiet was not peace. It was the eerie quiet of those traumatized and in shock.

***

It would take time for people to re-imagine Davao now. What seems to be immune to violence under the President’s protective arm has been infiltrated under his nose. The Davao blast then challenges his promise of peace to his people. Will he be able to keep his word?

But what concerns me now is not about his leadership. The most important thing is how to allay the waning confidence of the people in the present government’s ability to protect innocent lives amidst the President’s all-out war on drugs and the peace negotiations being carried out with militants in the South.

[Entry 168, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Fr. JBoy Gonzales, SJ.

Fr. Jboy Gonzales, SJ is a TV host for the ABS-CBN show Kape’t Pandesal. He is the Assistant Director for Formation at the Ateneo de Davao Senior High School. To know more about him especially his other social media accounts, visit his personal blog.

Editor’s Note: 

It was a nightmare that happened quickly — too fast, in fact, even for reality.  As the tragic news of an explosion in Davao City unfolded in online timelines and mainstream media outlets, the updates kept arriving. The tally of casualties and injured individuals became a grim reminder of the terror we faced.

But let us not limit the victims to numbers. They were people, all with their own stories.

SubSelfie.com corresponded with netizens from Davao who were there at the explosion site. Garry Palomo was eating and hanging out with three friends at the Roxas Night Market. The explosion happened in front of him, a few steps away when and where the explosion occurred. Their table was the only one that was intact and left standing after the explosion. Thankfully, no one was hurt in his group, except for their ears. He shared this image, using Fr. Jboy’s photo as a point of reference.

Photo courtesy: Garry Palomo.
Photo courtesy: Garry Palomo.

Another Davaoeno, who wishes to have his identity hidden, was twenty steps away from the explosion site. He described the aftermath as a mess, adding that he feels traumatized whenever he remembers the incident. He also shared this image with us.

Another perspective of the blast site.
Another perspective of the blast site.

Jeremy Perey and his friend Kenjay Reyes recalled their experience when they visited the Roxas Night Market a few days before the incident. They also shared an image of their trip with us.

Davao-City-Roxas-Night-Market-before-the-explosion-blast-bombing-Jeremy-Perey-SubSelfie-Blog

Days before the bombing at the Roxas Night Market in Davao City. Photo courtesy: Kenjay Reyes.
Days before the bombing at the Roxas Night Market in Davao City. Photo courtesy: Kenjay Reyes.

If you were there during the Davao blast, kindly share your stories with us as well. We can also refer reputable resource persons to help you deal with the emotional stress of this incident. Over at Reddit Philippines, there are also many netizens who were at the scene and some of them barely escaped death had they stayed a little longer.

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