Two loud explosions occurred in the middle of a mass at Jolo Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu Sunday morning, just days after the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law which the province rejected.
An initial police report from Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police director, Chief Supt. Graciano Mijares, said two improvised explosive devices exploded at the Jolo Cathedral at 8:28 a.m.
As of 2 p.m., the report said at least 20 persons were killed: Five members of the Philippine Army and 15 civilians.
On the other hand, at least 81 others were injured: 65 civilians, 14 soldiers, and two police personnel.
PNP chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde, condemned the incident as he immediately called for a thorough investigation.
“The Chief PNP has already ordered for the conduct of a thorough investigation on this incident to ensure the immediate arrest of the suspects,” said Senior Supt. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesperson.
“We extend our sympathy to the families of the victims and we will ensure that all possible assistance to the families will be given,” he said. “We assure the bereaved family and their relatives that we will ensure that justice will be served in the soonest time possible,” he added.
Banac also appealed to the people of Sulu and other nearby towns to remain calm and vigilant.
Albayalde said one of the explosions occurred inside the Jolo Cathedral while the other one was outside the church.
“Sa may Jolo Cathedral nangyari itong dalawang explosions, isa sa loob at isa labas. May pagitan na more or less na isang minuto itong pagsabog na ito,” Albayalde said.
Police have yet to determine the motive behind the incident. The bombing incident happened after the BOL was ratified on Friday night. Sulu rejected the BOL that establishes the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The Commission on Elections said Sulu did not approve of the BOL with 163,526 “No” votes as compared to the 137,630 “Yes” votes during the plebiscite last Jan. 21.
“Wala pa po talaga silang napi-pinpoint na anggulo. Tinitingnan po yung iba’t ibang threat groups doon sa lugar na ‘yon at hindi pa rin naman nila masabi kung ito ay may kinalaman sa katatapos na plebisito o wala,” Albayalde said.
Communication lines were reportedly down in the area.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. also said that they have yet to determine the motive and the suspects behind the twin bombings.
Madrigal also said that they have yet to determine if the explosions have something to do with the plebiscite.
“Inaalam pa, inaalam pa,” Madrigal said. “Hindi natin masabi if related to BOL kasi hindi pa natin alam kung ano ang, kung sino ang perpetrator eh,”he added.
To determine if the Abu Sayyaf Group have something to do with the incident, Madrigal said part of the probe to be conducted is to determine the signature of the IED used to conduct the bomb attacks.
He added that troops in the area have been placed on full alert.
Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana condemned the bombings.
He said the AFP has immediately secured the explosion area and transported the casualties to the nearest medical facilities, including the air evacuation of some victims to Zamboanga City for further medication and evaluation.
“I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans,” Lorenzana said.
“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.
The Defense chief said while they encourage the public to be more vigilant and to be cooperative with the authorities in reporting any security related concerns, everyone should remain calm and avoid spreading panic in our respective communities to deny terrorism any victory. (Martin Sadongdong, Francis Wakefield, and Aaron Recuenco)