Jolo peace advocate on cathedral blasts: “I thought our troops were just firing howitzers”

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 27 Jan) –  “The explosions came about 45 seconds apart. I thought our troops were just firing 105 howitzers,” Prof. Octavio Dinampo, a peace advocate who teaches at the Mindanao State University in Jolo, Sulu, said as he recalled hearing loud explosions while inside his house in Indanan town, some three to four kilometers from the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in downtown Jolo, where improvised explosive devices went off inside and outside the church shortly before 9 a.m. on Sunday.

The twin blasts left at least 20 persons dead and 111 others injured as of 6 p.m., according to the Sulu Provincial Police Office’s report to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Police Regional Office (ARMM-PRO).

The first of two bombs that exploded at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, SUlu Sunday morning, 27 January was inside the cathedral, the second in the parking area. Photo courtesy of AFP Western Mindanao Command

In a telephone interview, Dinampo said the bomb attack may have been perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group in retaliation to the losses they suffered from continuing military offensives in the area.

About five months ago, he said the military intelligence community intercepted plans allegedly by the Abu Sayyaf to conduct bombings in downtown Jolo.

Dinampo, who was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in 2008, said the military then closed the street where the Catholic cathedral is located for about 20 days but reopened it after the public complained of inconvenience.

“Now we have this very brutal and grisly attack inside a church…This is an act of reprisal and plain and simple terrorism to sow fear among civilians,” he said.

Dinampo said there are six military brigades now operating in Sulu to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf.

Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte activated the 11th Infantry Division in Jolo to augment troops currently deployed in the province, a known bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf.

Dinampo said addressing the Abu Sayyaf problem with military might would not solve the menace of the notorious extremist group that had turned to kidnap-for-ransom to sustain its operations.

Von Al Haq, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, condemned the blast and called on government authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident.

“This is a terrible act of terrorism,” he said.

Al Haq said the MILF would conduct its own investigation into the attack. He appealed for sobriety. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)