COTABATO CITY — Police and military authorities in North Cotabato are eyeing two groups believed to be behind the toppling of a steel tower of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) Thursday night, official said Saturday.

Supt. Alexander Tagum, North Cotabato police chief, said the bombing of NGCP Tower No. 68 in Barangay Pagangan, Aleosan, North Cotabato could be the handiwork of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and extortion gangs.

A series of arrests were carried out by the police and military in North Cotabato that dismantled a crime syndicate with the arrest of suspected bombers.

The two groups were suspected of mulcting the power distribution firm.

Covert and overt operations continue to neutralize the group, police and military leaders said.

Following a 15-hour power interruption caused by the bombing, electricity was back in Cotabato Light and Power Company franchise area and nearby provinces Friday through an alternate source.

An NGCP advisory issued at 12:30 p.m. Friday said: “At 12 noon, NGCP energized the Tacurong-Sultan Kudarat 69kV line to serve as alternate route of the bombed Kibawe-Sultan Kudarat 138kV line to serve Cotabato Light, Cotabato Electric Cooperative (Cotelco) and Maguindanao Electric Cooperative (Magelco).”

It added: “Reports show that the alternate line failed to energize this (Friday) morning due to vegetation hanging on the lines causing a permanent fault. NGCP has since cleared the vegetation. NGCP continues to assess the damages of the bombed tower along the Kibawe-Sultan Kudarat line.”

The 9:28 p.m. Thursday attack in Aleosan caused a 15-hour blackout in dozens of towns in the adjoining North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces and in all of the 37 barangays in Cotabato City.

Affected areas were six towns in North Cotabato, the whole of Maguindanao and Cotabato City.

Melfrance Bambi Capulong, speaking for the NGCP Southern Mindanao, said today’s scheduled preventive maintenance of Kabacan-Sultan Kudarat sub station was cancelled.

Capulong said the schedule was to clear trees and branches along the power lines and would have shut off power from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday. “But due to the bombing incident, NGCP field workers will attend to the toppled tower,” she said.

She said NGCP is doing its best to prevent similar incident in the future and improve power distribution activities to better serve its clients.

Despite the restored direct power from NGCP, Cotabato Light communications officer Arlene Hepiga said a 2-3 hours power rotational brownout has to be implemented in its franchise area.

She said the power provided by the Tacurong substation is still not enough to energized all areas of the Cotabato Light franchise which includes the city and parts of Sultan Kudarat and Datu Odin Sinsuat, both in Maguindanao.

Thursday night’s bombing of NGCP tower was the sixth since January.

Mayor Vicente Suropia of Aleosan has called on all village officials and the residents to help secure NGCP transmission lines.

He said if this problem continues, it has impact on the town’s economy and peace and order.

Suropia urged his constituents to report immediately to authorities any suspicious men roaming near transmission towers to prevent similar incidents in the future. PNA