AT LEAST 18, including soldiers, were killed and about 80 were wounded on Sunday morning, after two bombs exploded at Jolo Cathedral in the predominantly Muslim island and capital of Jolo, about a week after the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
According to the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were placed inside and outside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Barangay Walled City, which exploded almost simultaneously around 8:00 a.m. when Sunday Mass was about to start.
The casualty count continues to rise as of this reporting. According to WestMinCom’s update as of 2:00 p.m. of Sunday, five were soldiers and one was a member of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) among the initial 18 reported casualties, including 12 churchgoers.
Meanwhile, the 83 injured were composed of 65 civilians, 16 soldiers, and two PCG members.
The bombing incident came a week after Muslims voted for the ratification of the new autonomous region in Mindanao. On the other hand, the province of Sulu voted against the creation of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The entire Mindanao is currently under extended martial law since 2017.
AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr. said that they are still investigating if the incident has anything to do with the recent plebiscite.
“Hindi natin masabi kasi hindi pa natin alam kung sino ang perpetrator,” said Mr. Madrigal in a message to reporters on Sunday. (We can’t say yet because we don’t know who are the perpetrators).
Sought for comment, Lt. Col Gerry M. Besana, WestMinCom spokesperson, said “We are conducting a post-blast investigation to trace where these IEDs came from. We are doing everything we can to identify the perpetrators of this terrorist attack.”
In a statement, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said, “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.”
Governor Mujiv S. Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said in his statement, “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.”
For his part, Brig. Gen. Divino Rey C. Pabayo, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said, “I directed all the units under my command to heighten the alert level and secure all places of worships and public places and/or areas of convergence. We will further intensify our intelligence efforts and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans. Kindly advise everyone to be also watchful and extra vigilant as well as report to the authorities any security related issues and concerns.”
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement that the government “will pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars. The law will give them no mercy.”
National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. said in part, “Security forces have tightened up the systems to secure Sulu and the rest of BARMM. Peace must prevail over war.”
For his part, Ambassador Franz Jessen of the EU (European Union) Delegation to the Philippines said in part, “The EU Delegation to the Philippines conveys its deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of those who were killed and injured in Jolo, Sulu….” — Tajallih S. Basman, Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, and Arjay L. Balinbin