PAGADIAN CITY – Dozens of people were killed and wounded in two simultaneous bombings during Sunday’s mass at a cathedral in Sulu’s capital town of Jolo in southern Philippines, reports said.
The first bomb went off inside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and a second blast occurred just as people were rushing out of the church. Among the fatalities were soldiers and civilians.
Reports said over 2 dozen people were killed in the twin attacks and that dozens more had been wounded in the bombings. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the bombings of the cathedral which is located at the heart of Jolo.
The deadly attacks occurred barely a week after local residents and their leaders voted to reject the controversial Bangsamoro Organic Law or BOL in a referendum January 21 and demanded not to be included in the new Muslim autonomous under the rule of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF.
It was unclear how the improvised explosives were smuggled inside the church or how it managed to pass through police and military checkpoints.
The bombings happened despite an extended martial rule in the whole of southern Philippines, and the attacks only showed how poor the security was in the capital town. On New Year’s Eve, an improvised explosive also went off outside the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City – which also rejected the BOL – and left dozens of casualties. A member of the MILF – tagged as a Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter – linked to the attack was arrested by authorities during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Cotabato to campaign for the BOL ratification ahead of the plebiscite. His family denied all the accusation against him.
There were no immediate statement from the local police or the mayor of Jolo, Kerkhar Tan, on the bombings. But the military’s Western Mindanao Command said an initial report claimed 12 civilians and five soldiers were killed; and that 57 more wounded, including 16 soldiers and a member of the Coast Guard, in the blasts. One of the bombs was hidden under the seat of a motorcycle parked outside the church, according to Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, a military spokesman.
Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana strongly condemned the bombings and ordered troops to heighten their security and to secure all places of worships. “We strongly condemn the bombing at the Jolo Cathedral,” he said, adding, “I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans.”
He urged the public to stay calm and vowed to run after those behind the attacks. “We assure our people that we will use the full force of the law to bring to justice the perpetrators behind this incident. While we encourage the public to be more vigilant and to cooperative with the authorities in reporting any security related concerns, we also urge everyone to remain calm and avoid spreading panic in our respective communities to deny terrorism any victory,” Lorenzana said.
Governor Mujiv Hataman, of the Muslim autonomous region, and Sulu Governor Toto Tan, also condemned the attack. “We at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) condemn this bombing in the strongest possible terms. This bomb attack was done in a place of peace and worship, and it comes at a time when we are preparing for another stage of the peace process in Mindanao. We call on the people to remain calm and vigilant. We will do all we can to work with the other authorities to find the perpetrators of this atrocity and bring them to justice,” Hataman said.
“We are strongly condemning this evil act and we are doing our best to help those injured. Our authorities are on top of the situation,” Tan said.
Previous attacks on churches were largely blamed by the authorities to the Abu Sayyaf, a small but the most notorious among rebel groups operating in the troubled region. In December 2010, Abu Sayyaf militants bombed another church inside the police base in Jolo and killing at least six worshipers. The militants scaled the church wall undetected under cover of darkness and planted the bomb and waited the next morning before detonating the powerful explosive during a mass.
Two people were also killed and 17 others wounded when militants also detonated a huge bomb planted outside the cathedral in July 2009. A second bomb was found near the church and had been disarmed by Filipino and US troops helping the military fight terrorism. (Mindanao Examiner)
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