14 injured in Cotabato City blast, 5 in Libungan

COTABATO CITY CITY (MindaNews / 22 December) – Fourteen persons were injured in a grenade explosion at around 6 p.m. Sunday along Sinsuat Avenue near the entrance of Pedro Colina Hill and a few meters from the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

Army and police explosive ordnance experts conduct investigation on the Sunday evening (22 December 2019) bombing along Sinsuat Avenue near the entrance at Pedro Colina Hill in Cotabato City. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

“Tonight is a sad and unfortunate night for all Cotabatenos. As of this time, 16 are reported wounded,” Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi said. She later told MindaNews 14 were injured, seven of them soldiers, seven civilians.

Sunday’s bombing comes on the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to the city. Duterte is scheduled to distribute certificates of land ownership awards to agrarian reform beneficiaries in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) at the BARMM compound here on Monday afternoon, December 23.

Sunday’s bombing also comes nine days before December 31, the last day of the extended martial law and first anniversary of the New Year’s Eve blast that killed at least two and injured 24 outside the South Seas Mall along Magallanes St. The December 31, 2018 bombing was blamed on the IS-inspired Bangsamoro Isalmic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the same group suspected to have perpetrated Sunday’s attacks.

Martial Law in Mindanao will end on December 31, 2019 as the President no longer asked Congress for a fourth extension. By December 31, it will have been 952 days since he declared it on May 23, 2017, Day 1 of the Marawi Siege.

Earlier this month, Sayadi proposed the continuation of martial law in Cotabato City.

“Retention of martial law we want, because of the atrocities in the nearby municipalities,” the mayor said.

Libungan blast

In Libungan, North Cotabato, five persons were hurt when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off Sunday evening, a few minutes after the Cotabato blast.

Major Homer Estolas, spokesperson of the Army 6th Infantry division said an IED fashioned from a 60-mm mortar exploded in front of Remarata Store near the town plaza.

A few minutes later, Estolas said another IED exploded some 15 meters away from the first explosion but did not hurt anyone because authorities had already cordoned off the area.

Soldiers targeted

Estolas said Sunday’s attack in Cotabato City happened in front of the gate of the DXMS radio station along Sinsuat Avenue.

Unidentified men riding in a motorcycle lobbed a grenade at a group of soldiers guarding the Immaculate Conception Church and the DXMS radio station along Sinsuat Avenue.

Estolas said the suspects targeted soldiers guarding these establishments, not churchgoers coming out of the cathedral.

He said many civilians would have been hurt if the perpetrators had chosen to attack the Immaculate Conception Church since a mass had just ended at 6 p.m.

Among the victims of Sunday’s blast, Mayor Sayadi said, are seven soldiers from the Army’s 5th Special Forces Battalion “who were on stand by at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral tasked to secure the churchgoers” while seven others were civilians who were just passing by the area.

He said the bombers who were riding on a motorcycle fired first before lobbing a grenade at the soldiers who were disembarking from a military truck.

“It was clear that the suspects targeted the soldiers first. The civilians were hurt because they were there waiting for their rides home,” he said.

Estolas said Army ordnance experts defused and IED found a few hundred meters from the location of the blast.

“Remain calm”

Mayor Sayadi appealed to her constituents to “remain calm as our police and military have the situation under full control.”

Sayadi added they immediately implemented a lock down of all entry and exit points in the city “to ensure that our city will no longer experience more atrocities for tonight.”

“This is not the time to point fingers but we should all be on guard and stay vigilant,” she said.

Sayadi said she has instructed all barangay officials and force multipliers to be “on high alert.”

“We can rise above these acts of terrorism. We are resilient and strong enough to fight against these people whose mission is to disrupt our peace. We must all be united in the face of these adversities,” Sayadi added. (Ferdinandh Cabrera, Froilan Gallardo and Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)