Consecutive bomb blasts at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the Philippines yesterday (Sunday) resulted in the loss of 20 lives. The first bomb exploded inside the cathedral as worshippers were attending Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo’s Barangay Walled City. The second explosion occurred outside the cathedral as security services responded to the first explosion. Officials in the Philippines said that most of the 20 dead and 100 injured were civilians. Five soldiers were killed by the second explosion.
Today (Monday), police said that the attack was likely carried out by the Abu Sayyaf terror group, and said that one of their suspects was the brother of the group’s former leader. Abu Sayyaf is linked to the Daesh terror group, which calls itself “Islamic State”. It claimed responsibility for the attacks yesterday, saying that the attack against what they called a “crusader temple” was carried out by “two knights of martyrdom”.
Jolo is a volcanic island in the southwest Philippines and is the primary island of the province of Sulu. It will be included in a new Islamic autonomous region of the Philippines – the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – after voters in the area endorsed the move in a referendum last Monday (21 January). Just over half (54 per cent) of the people of Sulu voted against the creation of the new autonomous region; but they are included as they are part of the existing autonomous region which it will replace.
Members of the Philippines Catholic Bishops’ Conference were meeting in Manila at the time of the explosion. In a joint statement, they said that “we condole with the families of the several soldiers and civilians who were killed by the explosions. We also express our sympathies with those who were wounded and extend our solidarity with the rest of the church-goers inside the Cathedral and the rest of the church community in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo. At the same time, we condemn this act of terrorism that has taken place only a few days after the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
“As we begin a new phase in the peace process with the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM), we ask our Christian brethren to join hands with all peace-loving Muslim and Indigenous People communities in the advocacy against violent extremism.
“May all our religions of peace guide us in our quest for a brighter future for the peoples of Mindanao.”
Archbishop Moon Hing, the Bishop of West Malaysia and Primate of the Province of South East Asia, Chairs the Council of the Church in East Asia, a body which brings together Anglican provinces in Japan, Myanmar, Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia. Speaking to the Anglican Communion News Service, he said: “I strongly condemn this inhumane and irresponsible act of terror. It is so sad that political action is allowed to be mixed up with religious extremism and used for evil and selfish ambition.”
He added: “In the advancement of the 21st century technology and progress, it is so sad that there are people who still live with a medieval mentality and mindset. To them, human lives are only viewed as commodity or pawns for the leaders to gain and satisfy their pride, control and selfish desires.
“While we are in the midst of fighting for a safe environment and creation care, we too must heavily engage in a war of setting people free through responsible understanding and education on human dignity and respect of rights.
“We pray and stand in solidarity with the wounded, victims of terror, their families and the members of Jolo Cathedral in Sulu. We also pray for the culprits and their team to come to a realisation and encounter with God Almighty to repent and turn from their former ways.”
A soldier inspects the aftermath of yesterday’s terror attack at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Barangay.
Photo: Armed Forces of the Philippines
The ecumenical group the Christian Conference of Asia, which includes a number of Anglican provinces in the region, including the Episcopal Church of the Philippines as well as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) which is in full communion with the Anglican Communion, also issued a statement condemning the bombing.
“Such an act of violence against the worshippers and insolence at a sacred place is an utter disregard for human life and people’s right to live in peace”, CCA’s General Secretary, Mathews George Chunakara, said. “The CCA is saddened by the reports of fatalities. We pray for the families in grief and speedy recovery of the injured.
“We express solidarity with the church community in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo. We call on the authorities in the Philippines to bring the perpetrators of this barbaric crime to justice.
“With the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the CCA appeals to Christians in the region to be in unity with all peace-loving Muslim and indigenous communities and work together against violent extremism.
“We wish and pray that the Jolo blasts will not derail the quest for peace in Mindanao. May all our religions of peace enlighten us in our pursuit for an optimistic future for the peoples of Mindanao. May God deliver us from evil and lead us to peace.”
The island of Jolo lies not far from the north-east coast of Malaysian Borneo. The ecumenical Council of Churches of Malaysia responded to the attacks with a statement in which they condemned “in the strongest terms” what they called “the heinous terrorist attack”.
“We express our sincere condolences and offer our prayers to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to those injured”, they said. “We join the churches around the world to call upon the government of Philippines to act immediately to defuse the situation in their efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism.
“The government should not allow this shameful violent incident to derail the peace process in the Bangsamoro region.
“The perpetrators of these crimes should be brought to justice and a clear signal given that attacks of religious places of worship will never be tolerated. We stand in prayerful solidarity with the churches in the Philippines as they face this trying period.”
The country’s military chief has vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. “I strongly commit, with the help of relevant agencies of government, to pursue the criminals with the full force of the law to ensure that the victims of this injustice will be prosecuted and punished”, General Benjamin Madrigal Junior, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said. “I call on the people for calm and sobriety as government security forces address this recent attack on the peaceful Joloanos.”