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It wasn’t first time for priest in Jolo Cathedral bombing

Paterno Esmaquel II
In 2010, Father Ricky Bacolcol was injured in a blast during a Christmas Day Mass also in Jolo, Sulu

BOMBING AFTERMATH. Policemen and soldiers are seen in front of the Jolo Cathedral, where a bombing took place on January 27, 2019. Photo by Nickee Butlangan/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Father Ricky Bacolcol, the priest saying Mass at the Jolo Cathedral when explosions killed and injured Mass-goers on Sunday, January 27, had experienced something similar in the past. 

On December 25, 2010, an improvised explosive device went off in a police camp chapel in Jolo, Sulu, wounding Bacolcol and 10 Mass-goers, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer on December 26, 2010. At that time, Bacolcol was concelebrating a Christmas Day Mass.

This 2010 explosion happened at the Evangelical Chapel of Camp Asturias in Jolo, said the Philippine Star

Bacolcol was then a newly ordained priest assisting 72-year-old Father Romeo Villanueva. Bacolcol “was thrown off his feet by the impact of the blast and suffered a slight leg injury,” the Inquirer said.

Fast-forward to 2019, the Jolo Cathedral blast “must have been very difficult” for Bacolcol since he had undergone a similar experience in the past, said Jolo Cathedral priest Father Jeff Nadua.

“Hindi mo masasabing okay lalo na si Father Ricky, na dalawang beses na. Pangalawang beses na niya ‘yon (You cannot say it’s okay especially Father Ricky, who has experienced it twice. This is his second time),” said Nadua in an interview in Jolo that was aired live on Facebook on Tuesday, January 29.

Asked if Bacolcol was wounded in Sunday’s explosion, Nadua said the priest sustained “not a scratch at all.”

Staying despite fear

The Jolo Cathedral blast killed at least 23 people and injured 109 others, in what President Rodrigo Duterte said was a suicide bombing carried out by a husband-and-wife team. The death toll rose on February 4.

Many of the victims were regular Mass-goers at the Jolo Cathedral. A first explosion happened during the Second Reading, followed by a second blast near the church entrance. (READ: ‘They died for faith’: Priests mourn Mass-goers in Jolo bombing

This was not the first attack involving this place of worship. Rappler’s research showed that since 2000, there have been at least 10 attacks directly against or near the Jolo Cathedral. 

As for himself, Nadua admitted on Tuesday he is sometimes afraid. But, he said, “never in [his] wildest thoughts” has he entertained leaving his flock in this situation. 

“Natatakot naman. Every time na lumabas ako ng bahay, merong isang poster doon si Mama Mary eh: ‘Am I not your Mother?’ nakalagay doon. ‘Yun na ang lakas ko,” he said. (I feel afraid. Every time I leave the house, there is a poster of Mama Mary there: “Am I not your Mother?” it says. That is my strength.)

“Kakaunti na nga lang kami dito eh. Ipapakita ko pa ba na takot ako? Iisipin ko pa ba na takot ako?” (There are just a few of us here. Will I still show that I am afraid? Will I still think that I am afraid?) – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.