ZAMBOANGA CITY: A grenade explosion at a Catholic Church in Jolo injured two people Wednesday night, officials said.
The town’s mayor Hussin Amin said the grenade exploded outside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral. No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Amin said the blast wounded Salma Pacana, 19, and Romano Sahiduan, 25, who were walking by when the explosion occurred.
“We condemn this attack and those behind it. Jolo is now peaceful and people are enjoying the tranquillity and peace environment, and now this,” Amin told The Manila Times by phone.
He appealed to citizens to stay calm and vigilant and report to authorities any suspicious persons in their community. “We don’t want to be disturbed by this kind of incident and this is isolated and nothing to worry,” he said.
Bishop Antonio Nercua Ablon, of the Diocese of Pagadian City, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, also condemned the blast.
“We condemn the bombing as we also pray for the victims. We join with our brethren in Jolo particularly to the Cathedral of Mount Carmel. As we do, we should not only focus on blaming Abu Sayyaf or any other groups specially that of our Moro brethren but we should also try to analyze the current political and military and economic positioning of the United States of America,” he said.
The bombings came at a crucial time when the US and the Philippines are in talks about the deployment of more Americans troops in the Philippines.
“They forget that it is in violation of our national sovereignty and is a violation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. We call on our people to be rational and to be truly nationalist and not allow America to trample upon us,” the bishop said.
Last year, a grenade was lobbed at the same church. The grenade landed on the church’s roof where it exploded.
Previous attacks on the church were largely blamed by the authorities on the Abu Sayyaf.
In December 2010, Abu Sayyaf rebels bombed another Catholic Church inside a police compound in Jolo town and killing at least six people.
Rebels scaled the church wall undetected under cover of darkness and planted the bomb and waited the next morning before detonating the powerful explosive during a mass.
Two people were also killed and 17 others wounded when Abu Sayyaf rebels set off a huge bomb outside the Mount Carmel Cathedral in July 2009. A second bomb found near the church was defused.
The powerful blast damaged a row of stores outside the church.
A Muslim rebel group denied involvement in the spate of deadly bombings that had killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians in the restive region.
“This spate of bombings is not ours. We are fighting for the cause and freedom of the Bangsamoro people,” Abu Misry Mama, a spokesman for the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFF), said in an interview with the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
Mama said they are fighting for a jihad and has nothing to do with terror groups being linked by authorities to his group.
“We do not target innocent civilians, especially women and children. This is not the teachings of the holy Koran,” Mama said, although he admitted responsibility for the roadside bombing of a military truck in Maguindanao recently.
Authorities link the BIFF to the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda, including a rag-tag army of militants fighting for the Islamization of Mindanao. The military said Mama’s group is coddling Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, tagged as among those behind the 2002 Bali bombings.
Mama denied reports linking his group to the bombings in Cagayan de Oro City and Cotabato City and other areas in central Mindanao. He said the military and police authorities should shed light on how these bombs managed to pass through tight security checkpoints.
“The BIFF is behind many atrocities and bombings and the operation is going on to neutralize this group and so are other lawless groups behind similar attacks,” Col. Dickson Hermoso, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, said in a separate interview.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement was founded by Ameril Umbra Kato, a former senior leader in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group now negotiating peace with Manila.
Kato, accused by authorities as behind the series of deadly attacks in Mindanao in 2008, was disowned by the MILF after he split with the rebel group and formed his own group.
He also threatened to disrupt the peace talks between the MILF and the Aquino government and pursue an independent Muslim state in Mindanao, home to some four million Muslims in a region of about 18 million mostly Christian inhabitants.
Kato has repeatedly criticized MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim for abandoning their struggle for independence and betraying the MILF when he agreed to a secret meeting called by President Aquino 3rd in Japan in August 2011.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) also condemned the recent blasts and challenged all stakeholders of peace in Mindanao to unite against such “acts of cowardice.”
“We appeal to the authorities to act swiftly on these cases that have caused panic and fear to our people. We call for justice to be served to all innocent victims,” Fr. Leo Dalmao, CMF, AMRSP co-chairman, said.
“We are certain that no ideologies or religious beliefs in the world can ever justify mass murder, especially innocent civilians and health workers,” he added.
“We enjoin all armed groups and warring factions in Mindanao to please spare innocent civilians from their whims of violent means, and to sit down with government and all stakeholders for dialogue and shun the use of ruthlessness to forward their belief and ideologies,” he said.
With a report from Robertzon Ramirez