MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are on heightened alert after bombs exploded Sunday, January 27, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that he has directed the military to “heighten their alert level” after the two bomb explosions killed at least 23 people and injured 109 others. The death toll was updated as of February 4.
Among the victims were soldiers and civilians, who were immediately sent to the nearest medical facilities.
“I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worship and public places at once, and initiate proactive security measures to thwart hostile plans,” said Lorenzana, who strongly condemned the bombing.
“As we convey our sincerest condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and offer our sympathy to the peace-loving people of Sulu who are severely affected by this dastardly act, we assure our people that we will use the full force of the law to bring to justice the perpetrators behind this incident,” he added.
According to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional police, one improvised explosive device was used inside the cathedral itself, while another exploded outside at the entrance.
PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde has ordered a “thorough investigation on this incident to ensure the immediate arrest of the suspects,” according to public information office chief Senior Superintendent Bernard Banac.
“We extend our sympathy to the families of the victims and we will ensure that all possible assistance to the families will be given. We assure the bereaved family and their relatives that we will ensure that justice will be served in the soonest time possible,” said Banac.
MILF condemns bombings
The bombing occurred barely a week after the Commission on Elections deemed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) as ratified. (READ: Galvez says ratified BOL brings ‘new dawn’ to Mindanao)
The BOL will abolish the ARMM and replace it with the powerful Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the creation of which is expected to correct the historical injustices committed against the Moro people over the years.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal also condemned the bombings. He said it is “obvious” that whoever was responsible behind the explosions wanted to put “religious color” to the Bangsamoro plebiscite.
“Hard to tell who is responsible, but obviously it is to put religious color to the plebiscite. There are people who thrive on the suffering of [other] people,” Iqbal said.
For now, he said the MILF is monitoring the situation in Sulu and “will do everything to stop the forces of evil to succeed.” – with reports from Rambo Talabong and Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com