By Calvin D. Cordova, Fe Marie D. Dumaboc, Inna Gian Mejia, Michelle Joy L. Padayhag, Miguel Ernest Ermac, USJ-R Intern Rosalie O. Abatayo |July 18,2017 - 11:24 PM

Students (right) rush out of the Zapatera Elementary School campus after a bomb hoax from an unidentifed prankster.

Catherine Faith Sabala, 12, was busy finishing a school project when she and her classmates were calmly advised by their teacher to move out of the classroom.

Since there was no explanation given, the girl started to speculate.

“Basin naay Maute Group o ba kaha Abu Sayyaf or naay linog. (Perhaps, there were Maute terrorists or Abu Sayyaf or an earthquake),” said the Grade 6 pupil of Lahug Elementary School.

When the pupils reached the school grounds, school officials then told them that the evacuation was a precautionary measure after receiving a phone call about the presence of explosives in their building.

Not a single bomb was found in the building.

But it turned out to be just one of the series of hoax bomb threats that hit at least seven public schools and the Department of Education (DepEd)-Cebu City Division along Imus Road in Cebu City on Tuesday morning.

The incident led to the suspension of classes in all 58 public elementary schools and 54 high schools in Cebu City.

In Mandaue City, policemen rushed to the Mandaue City Comprehensive National High School after a teacher received a phone call regarding the alleged presence of a bomb inside the school.

It turned out to be negative.

Police later found out that the caller only wanted to warn the school after learning about the series of bomb threats in Cebu City.

Cebu City authorities traced the male caller who made the bomb hoax to a resident in Ilagan City, Isabela province.

Based on the caller ID of DepEd Cebu City, the cell phone number of the caller was 0935-1080039.

When the number was entered on Facebook, it was traced to one Karen Mae Antonio Bielgo Calautit, a high school teacher in Isabela.

In response to one of the Facebook posts that made public her cell phone number, Calautit said she had nothing to do with the bomb scares in Cebu City.

“For God’s sake. This is not true,” she said.

Calautit, whose husband is a policeman, said in a Facebook post that she lost her cellular phone about two months ago.

But she said she was not able to report it to the police immediately because it was raining at that time.

She, however, made a public plea to whoever was using her phone: “Please lang po kung sino ka man na gumagamit niyan maawa ka at matakot ka sa Diyos kasi naninira ka ng buhay ng ibang tao (To the person who is using my phone, please have pity on me, and be afraid of God. You are destroying the life of another person.)

Senior Supt. Joel Doria, director of the Cebu City Police Office, said they have tapped the assistance of its Anti-Cybercrime Unit to identify the real caller.

Although the threats turned out to be a hoax, Doria reminded the public not to panic when receiving such calls.

“Don’t panic but don’t treat the call as a prank call. Call the police right away. The police will treat a threat as real threat and we will immediately take action,” Doria said.

The hoax bomb threats started at the office of the DepEd-Cebu City Division along Imus Road.

Rhea Fe Sarmiento, secretary of DepEd-Cebu City Division superintendent Bianito Dagatan, said a man called the office at 8:39 a.m. and claimed that a bomb was planted in the building.

“I couldn’t understand what he was saying but it seemed he was airing his frustrations against the government. Then before ending the call, he said ‘pagbantay mo naay bomba sa inyong opisina (watch out, there is a bomb in your office),” said Sarmiento.

Dagatan was informed of the phone call and coordinated with Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, deputy mayor for police matters.

Teachers and workers evacuated the building while operatives of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) inspected the building.

Shortly after the phone call was made to the DepEd office, the Zapatera Elementary School, which was located at the back of the building, received the same threat.

Parents rushed to the school to pick up their children. Some of them forcibly entered the school by destroying the fence.

Some pupils sustained bruises after stumbling while trying to rush out of the school.

No bomb was found in the building and in the nearby school. Teachers were allowed to return to the building at 10:57 a.m.

Apart from Zapatera, public schools in Barangays Mabolo, Lahug and Labangon as well as Gothong High School and City Central School also received the same threats.

The series of bomb threats forced Dagatan to recommend the suspension of classes in all public schools in Cebu City.

“Although we knew that the purpose was just to sow panic, we didn’t take the threats for granted. We decided to suspend the classes for the day since the other schools were also affected,” Dagatan said.

Tumulak said it was unfortunate that some parents immediately panicked.

“We understand them because it concerned the safety of their children, but they should have allowed the teachers to implement their emergency preparedness,” said Tumulak.

Dagatan said teachers are trained what to do in case of emergencies.

At the Lahug Elementary School, Dr. Janet Kanen, the assistant principal, said the caller spoke in Tagalog.

“His voice was calm. When I answered the phone call, he spoke of something I could not understand… And then he said ‘May bomba diyan.’ (There’s a bomb there). He wanted us to let the children move out of the building so they won’t get killed,” Kanen told CDN.

The caller, she said, told her that the bomb would explode after 20 minutes.

Kanen said she immediately called the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management team and the DepEd Cebu City division.

She then instructed all the teachers to ask their pupils to move out of the building but not to inform them about the bomb threat to prevent any panic.
After 10 minutes, the students of the Lahug Elementary School took shelter at the nearby University of the Philippines’ grounds.

Chief Insp. Sandley Sabang, head of the Cebu City Police Office’s SWAT, said they had to request K9 dogs from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Central Command (Centcom), and the police offices of the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.

The Cebu City police, he said, does not have even a single K9 dog.

Sabang said they had to wait for about two hours before the K9 dogs from the Centcom and their police counterparts arrived.

“We really need our own K9 dogs. Look at what happened today. What if our police counterparts in Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue and even the Central Command also had to attend to bomb threats?” he said.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said yesterday’s incident was obviously a prank.

“If you really want to explode the bomb, you will not call. You just explode it,” Osmeña said.

He, however, said that the authorities should never take this incident for granted.

It is up to the police to investigate the incident, he added.

Dagatan of DepEd-Cebu City said they would file a case against the person who caused the disruption of classes yesterday.

“Definitely we will file a case. We will do it,” he said.

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