UPDATED:  4 killed, 32 others injured in blast across Cotabato cathedral

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 July) — Four persons were killed, including the 12-year old grandson of  former Mindanao Cross editor  and now MindaNews columnist Patricio Diaz, while 32 others were injured when an improvised explosive device went off at around 8:40 a.m. Sunday inside a lechon house fronting the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cotabato City.

The bomb exploded  while Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI, was finishing his homily (see other story), not after the mass had ended .

Killed according to DXND reports were Ruby Ramirez, 43, of Philippine Trade, Barangay Bulalo in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, and owner of the lechon house where the bomb was planted; Paulo Kahar; a still unidentified male believed to be mentally-ill, and the 12-year old Prince Allen Diaz.

“Let’s pray for the end of terrorism,” the Diaz patriarch and veteran journalist said.

Dolly Diaz, aunt of Prince Allen, told MindaNews that the boy’s two siblings were also rushed to the hospital – Eugene Paul, 13, the eldest and Pia Angela, the youngest. Pia Angela has been pronounced out of danger and has left the Notre Dame hospital while Eugene Paul is still fighting for his life, Dolly said at around 3 p.m. Sunday.

According to Quevedo,  “most of those injured were in the vicintiy of the lechon house, on the road, while shrapnels reached and injured some of the churchgoers who were near the cathedral door. It was there where Prince was hit.”

Mr. Diaz said his grandchildren were “getting down the jeep in front of the Cathedral when the explosion took place.”

DXND reported 24 persons were rushed to the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center along Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato City: Jay C Cergas, 29, his wife, Priscilyn, 27, and 3-year old son Vincent Jay; Datu Manod Abedin; Nestor Luna, 29; Rey Silo Callado, 38; Rosita Echavez; Sonny Ilian; Purificacion Alviar; Rodrigo Ominga; Mado Guiamad; Jocelyn Abdulla, 38; Ferdinand Benora, 27; Elmer Noble, 32; Gramatica Purling; Mohammad Tipadan; Maricel Escanel, 29; Jerrimae Dapilan, 18; Junreil Sayre, 9; Danisa Sayre, 11; Joeffrey Sayre, 1; Giovanni Lomigcit, 19; Jayvil Joy Caida, 13; and Sgt. Freddie Millan, a CAFGU commander.

Six persons were rushed to the Cotabato City Emergency and Medical Specialist and identified as Aldrian Sinapilo; Amilil Kahabudin; Torla Arliechos; Jun Parcon; Weng Garcia; and Zacaria Ampang.

Authorities arrested a still unidentified male they suspected to be the bomber, minutes after the blast, according to Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema.

The suspect, whose identity was withheld pending investigation, was placed under the custody of the Cotabato City PNP,  reports reaching DXND said.

Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Jesus Dureza, in a statement released Sunday afternoon, said, “I strongly condemn this most recent act of terrorism victimizing innocent civilians. This murderous act of insanity although inflicting injury and misery on hapless civilians cannot and will not succeed in instilling fear and weaken the peace-loving populace. On the contrary, this incident will all the more strengthen the affected community’s resolve to contend with and overcome the evil designs of those behind this cowardly act of treachery and violence. We call on peace-loving citizens to unite and help rid our society of this menace.”

Dureza said government security forces “will track down those responsible. In the meantime, the victims need immediate assistance. President Arroyo has directed us to attend to this with dispatch.”

The Cotabato City blast occurred five days after the intelligence chief of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division told told Mindanao and Manila-based journalists who participated in the “State of the Bakwits”  joint coverage on June 30 at the Estosan Garden Hotel in Cotabato City that “we may expect more IED attacks in the coming days for as long as punitive operations against Umbra Kato continue.”

Col. Diosdado Carreon, intelligence chief, said the series of IED explosions in the last few weeks is “the handiwork of just one group which has links with the JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) and some of them are hiding in the LMG (“lawless MILF groups”) areas. (see other story)

“We may expect more IED attacks in the coming days for as long as punitive operations against Umbra Kato continue,” said Col. Diosdado Carreon.

Quevedo says he thinks the target was the “lechon house, not the church, for if the church was the target, they could have placed the bomb nearer the cathedral or even inside it.”

“That would have been very easy,” he said, as there were only two security guards – one at the main gate and the other at the parking area.

Since June, about 10 roadside bombings and bus blasts took have occurred in  the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat, killing a number of people and injuring several others.

The military has identified the “LMG and MILF” as behind the bombings while the Al Khobar, an extortion ring operating in Region 12, owned up the recent bus blasts in North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told the journalists in a forum morning of July 1 that they  “do not have the motive to do that (bomb Moro areas).”

“As for bombings in Christian areas, as a revolutionary organization, anong mapaapala namin? (what can we achieve by that?) Can we get sympathy from international community? From the people? Will those bombings contribute to the  popularity and  legitimacy of the MILF?” Iqbal asked.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas and Malu Cadelina-Manar/MindaNews)