Bombs kill at least 20 at cathedral in Mindanao, Philippines

Monday, January 28, 2019

Twin bombings yesterday struck the Jolo Cathedral in Mindanao, Philippines. The second blast affected first responders following the first; between the two blasts, at least 20 were killed.

The interior of the cathedral after the bombings.
Image: Albert Alcainon behalf of the Office of the President.

According to Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares of the police of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the confirmed deaths are fourteen civilians, five Armed Forces personnel, and one member of the Coast Guard. This revised downwards an earlier toll of 27 dead. Mijares further claimed 90 civilians were wounded, as were seventeen from the Armed Forces, and two each from the Coast Guard and the National Police. Some victims were airlifted to nearby Zamboanga.

"We will use the full force of the law to bring to justice the perpetrators behind this incident," said Delfin Lorenzana, the Defence Secretary; he described the attacks as a "dastardly act" and urged vigilant locals to assist authorities and "deny terrorism any victory". The first bomb went off within the Roman Catholic cathedral; the second in its car park. Lorenzana said he had ordered 'heightened alert' from troops, and that the army protect places of worship.

The Philippines is a Catholic majority nation. This week saw a referendum seeking to create a new autonomous, self-administered region in Muslim-majority Mindanao, potentially ending decades of conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Of the 2.8 million who voted, 85% were in favour and on Friday the government announced the new region, to be called Bangsamoro, would be governing itself from 2022.

Jolo, and the Sulu region it is within, were among the areas to vote against the measure. Bangsamoro is nevertheless to include them within it.

Arnel dela Vega of the army's Western Mindanao Command said the Abu Sayyaf Group are the suspected perpetrators. The first bomb went off during Mass; video footage from the scene shows wooden pews broken and scattered within the building. Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman agreed, saying only this organisation appeared capable of the double bombing. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group, subsequently claimed responsibility.

The Coast Guard said their casualties were attending mass. The deceased seaman was identified as Jaypee Galicha by a Coast Guard spokesperson. The Coast Guard has announced an order by Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Elson Hermogino directing Coast Guard units nearby to "join personnel from the [army and police] in the investigation and pursuit of the perpetrators."

Statements of condemnation have come from Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) head Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Pope Francis, and a spokesperson for President Rodrigo Duterte. The OIC is the largest group representing nations with mainly Muslim populations.