Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a “state of lawlessness” following a deadly explosion at an open-air market in southern Davao City that killed at least 14 people and injured at least 70 others during a presidential visit to his hometown on Friday.
Duterte, who was dubbed "the Punisher" after building a hard stance on the drug trade during his 22 years as mayor of Davao City, inspected the scene and described the attack as "extraordinary times" for the Philippines.
“We’re trying to cope up with a crisis now. There is a crisis in this country involving drugs, extrajudicial killings and there seems to be an environment of lawless violence,” said Duterte, who promised to tackle crime, corruption and drug use when he was inaugurated as president back in June.
Duterte added that the “state of lawlessness" did not constitute martial law, though it does authorize security forces to conduct searches through the country.
The region was under a heightened security alert because of a military offensive against Abu Sayyaf militants, officials said.
Duterte was safe and at a police station after the blast, his son Paolo Duterte, the vice mayor of the city on the island of Mindanao, told Reuters. He also told the news agency that his father had been nowhere near the blast at the time.
"Initial investigations show they found shrapnel from a mortar-based improvised explosive device," presidential communications secretary Martin Andanar told DZMM radio, according to the French news agency AFP.
"Right now, we cannot yet give definite answer to as to who is behind this as we are also trying to determine what really exploded," said Paolo Dutertge on the city government's Facebook page. "It's a sad day for Davao and for the Philippines."
The explosion erupted near one of the top hotels in the city, which is frequented by Duterte. Earlier Friday, the president dismissed rumors of a plot to assassinate him, saying such threats were to be expected, Reuters reported.
National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Saturday that he "assumed" the attacks were carried out by Abu Sayyaf militants.
"While nobody has owned up to this act, we can only assume that this was perpetrated by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf that has suffered heavy casualties," Lorenzana was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Student John Rhyl L Sialmo III told Al Jazeera that the blast occurred around 10:30 pm local time.
"There were so many people, because it was a night market and also because it's a Friday," Sialmo said, adding that "the rescuers had to use improvised bandages on the victims."
The tough-talking Duterte, who took office as president in May pledging a brutal "War on Drugs," has come under sharp criticism for encouraging vigilante-style killings of drug dealers and criminals.
An estimated 2,400 deaths related to the war on drugs have occurred since Duterte took office, according to police reports. UN experts have criticized the Philippines for a wave of extrajudicial executions and killings since Duterte took office.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that the U.S. are prepared to offer assistance in the investigation as local authorities continue to investigate the cause of Friday's deadly explosion.
President Obama will have an opportunity to meet with Duterte next week, Price added. The two leaders plan to convene at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Laos.
Contributing: Charles Ventura from Los Angeles