At least 23 people were killed and 109 others injured as explosions rocked the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu, on Sunday, January 27, just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was ratified.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares earlier reported a death toll of 27, then said this was revised due to double counting.
The death toll as of February 4 was at 23.
Most of the casualties were civilians, while several were members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
The ARMM regional police said casualties "were immediately evacuated" as the AFP and the PNP secured the area.
The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) earlier said two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were used to bomb the cathedral.
According to the ARMM regional police, one IED exploded inside the cathedral, and another at the entrance.
PNP spokesperson Senior Superintendent Bernard Banac said that the second explosion occurred as AFP personnel responded to the first explosion.
Arnel dela Vega, chief of the Philippine military's Western Mindanao Command, said the primary suspect behind the bombing is still the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group. He said that this is based on previous threats, but is subject to "further assessment and validation."
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman also said the Jolo Cathedral bombing was likely the work of terrorists. Hataman said the Abu Sayyaf seems to be the only group capable of perpetrating such an attack.
"At this point in time, ayaw natin magbigay ng speculation, pero ang isang tiyak natin diyan 99% na kagagawan 'yan ng mga terorista," Hataman said in a chance interview at the Laguindingan Airport on Sunday.
(At this point in time, we do not want to make speculations, but we can be sure that this is 99% the handiwork of terrorists.)
PCG spokesman Armand Balilo identified the fatality from the PCG as Seaman Second Class Jaypee Galicha. He died at the blast site.
The PCG's PO3 Joemar Sanson and PO3 Paolo Isolana also sustained injuries, added Balilo.
The 3 were hearing Mass at the Jolo Cathedral when the bombing happened.
The PCG said Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Elson Hermogino "alerted all PCG units in the area, and directed them to join personnel from the AFP and PNP in the investigation and pursuit of the perpetrators."
The Jolo Cathedral bombing occurred barely a week after the Commission on Elections deemed the 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. – Rappler.com
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.