AUTHORITIES INCLUDING President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself are considering the possibility of suicide bombers involved in Sunday’s twin blasts at the Jolo Cathedral, according to their updates on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Malacañang issued a statement saying the President has ordered an “all-out war against the enemies of the state.”
At a groundbreaking ceremony in Malabon on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Duterte cited to reporters a military briefing. “Suicide bombers were one female and one male,” he said. “My briefer…comes from my intelligence people. I read the briefer (at) 3:00 in the morning kanina.”
For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana sent reporters a message late Tuesday saying, “There are two bombs that exploded one after the other within 1.5 minutes. The first bomb that exploded inside the church was apparently left behind by a certain woman. This is according to (the) hazy recollection (of) a survivor sitting four pews behind the explosion.”
“The second bomb that exploded at the entrance about a minute and a half after may have (come from) a suicide bomber, as indicated by body parts strewn all over including half a face and neck and two feet. The identity of this person is still a mystery and is under investigation by the PNP SOCO.”
“The investigators also found a soldier with severed torso. It is more likely that the second bomb was caused by a suicide bomber.”
Mr. Duterte, for his part, contradicted earlier statements by his security officials of security lapses prior to the bombing. “Walang lapses doon (There were no [security] lapses there),” he said.
“Kasi babae (Because the suspect is a woman). It’s not the norm of this country na magkapkap ka ng babae sa simbahan (to frisk a woman, especially in church)….The other bomber was outside. There was no reason for him to be frisked. Either he was just passing by before blowing himself up….”
“So confirming it’s a case of suicide bombing,” Mr. Duterte said.
“I was briefed by the military. Well, I don’t know, basta (but) I was briefed. Kung hindi suicide bomber eh ‘di ano? (If not a suicide bomber, then what?) By cellphone? Yes, that’s a possibility. But eyewitnesses said [it’s suicide bombing]. It’s the other way around. May kasama siguro (Perhaps there was company), (a) support system.”
Mr. Duterte also claimed the government was warned “by Indonesia” about terror in Jolo.
For his part, Col. Noel J. Detoyato, Public Affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said investigators are looking into four to six persons of interests, with three were caught in CCTV footages released by the AFP Western Mindanao Command.
“Pero yung grupo na ina-identify nila kaagad is the Ajang Ajang, it is a subgroup of the ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group], na parang ‘yun ‘yung inutos-utusan nila na grupo na nasa siyudad.” (But the group that they identified [as] the Ajang Ajang, it is a subgroup of the ASG [assigned to the municipality of Jolo].)
“Dalawa sa kanila is sabi may nakita sila na babae na nag-iwan ng bag (at) the fifth pew ng simbahan. Iniwan ‘yung bag, umalis yung babae then a few seconds after, may sumabog,” Mr. Detoyato added. (Two of them said they saw a woman leave a bag [at] the fifth pew of the church. She left the church then a few seconds after, there was an explosion.)
For its part, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) has put on heightened alert its personnel around the country to bar possible entry of foreign terrorists.
“I have instructed our Port Operations Division to alert all its personnel and be on the lookout for suspected foreign terrorists who might attempt to enter the country,” BI Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said in a statement.
The statement came in the wake of the Islamic State’s (IS) claiming responsibility for the twin blasts in Jolo last Sunday.
BI Port Operations Division Chief Grifton SP. Medina, for his part, said he has instructed members of the travel and control enforcement unit, responsible in conducting secondary inspections of passengers with doubtful documents, and border control and intelligence unit, tasked to monitor passengers acting suspiciously, “to be extra vigilant in the conduct of their functions.”
“They were reminded to make sure that only aliens who are properly documented and are legitimate travelers with valid reasons in coming here are admitted,” he said
For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo clarified the Palace statement on Tuesday that, “When you say against the enemies of the state, [we refer to] those who use violence against the state. Those who want to destroy the democratic institutions of this country.”
“Those who kill, who sow terror, who bomb civilians, soldiers, and policemen. These are the enemies of the state that the President is referring to, not the critics,” he added.
Mr. Duterte visited the blast site in Jolo last Monday and told accompanying AFP officials, “I’m ordering you now: pulpugin ninyo ang (crush the) Abu Sayyaf by whatever means.”
Mr. Panelo also responded to Monday’s pastoral statement by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), saying the President’s criticisms “help in cleansing the institution of its members.”
“But if you say that the President’s criticism of them would embolden others to disrespect the Church, I don’t think so,” Mr. Panelo said.
“Nobody can stop him (Mr. Duterte) from saying his mind on certain matters that he feels are wrong.”
Mr. Panelo said Mr. Duterte’s tirades against the clergy had nothing to do with the bombing of the Jolo cathedral. “In fact, the President is outraged. He’s so angry that they have not respected a place of worship — that’s why he declared war against all these perpetrators.”
In a rare move on Monday, the largest group of Catholic bishops in the country had sought forgiveness for its “collective silence over many disturbing issues,” including the government’s drug war and Mr. Duterte’s attacks on the church and its doctrines.
“Forgive us for the length of time that it took us to find our collective voice,” the CBCP said in its pastoral letter headlined, “Conquering Evil with Good.” “We too needed to be guided properly in prayer and discernment before we could guide you.”
The bishops said they understood the need to fight crime and drugs, but were concerned “when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers,” while bigger players were left alone.
The group also opposed efforts led by Mr. Duterte’s allies to lower the age of criminal liability for children, and said it had seen a “culture of violence has gradually prevailed in our land,” referring also to Sunday’s church bombing in Jolo.
“Rather than attack the President … I’d rather they issue a statement that they are praying for the President to succeed in his endeavor,” Mr. Panelo said.
For his part, Major General Pablo M. Lorenzo, AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said in his presentation, “After 20 months since martial law was first declared in Mindanao, rebellion still exists and that the safety of the public is in peril by the rebellion notwithstanding the gains achieved during its period of implementation.”
“It is significant to point out that while some bombings occurred, far more bombing plots have also been preempted. Nonetheless, the magnitude of these bombing operations, the latest of which was the 27 January Jolo Cathedral bombing which killed at least 21 people, records have it that it could be 22 already people and injured 97 others, demonstrate the continuing danger post to the public by these terrorist groups while advancing their respective political objectives,” Mr. Lorenzo also said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Arjay L. Balinbin, and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, with a report by Reuters