Cotabato City blast disrupts holy mass

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 23 Dec) — Sunday’s grenade attack in Cotabato City disrupted the 5:30 p.m. mass at the Catholic cathedral there, a priest said Monday.

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

Condemning the violence, Fr. Zaldy Robles, parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, said the mass-goers scampered to safety after hearing the explosion and the bursts of gun fires.

“The mass-goers rushed out of the church towards the convent and the formation center after the explosion and the series of gun fires. They eventually returned and the mass resumed,” he said in a phone interview.

But the next 6:30 p.m. mass was eventually cancelled due to security reasons, he added.

According to a police report, the grenade was thrown along Sinsuat Avenue, beside the radio station, which is owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), and the cathedral in the city, the seat of the Archdiocese of Cotabato.

Moments later, explosions also rocked the nearby town of Libungan in North Cotabato and Upi in Maguindanao, which are also part of the archdiocesan territory.

The military blamed the explosions to the Islamic State-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Cotabato Archbishop Angelito Lampon, OMI, was not in the city when the explosion hit but was closely monitoring the incidents, Robles said.

“It is sad that this kind of violence is happening while we are celebrating the holy Christmas season,” the priest said.

Nine soldiers manning the church were hurt by the grenade blast while a dozen civilians were also injured in the separate explosions, authorities said.

No one among the church-goers was injured.

Robles said it was fortunate the grenade was not thrown inside the church, otherwise the casualties would have been unimaginable.

The priest called on the faithful to put their trust on God and not be cowed by the incident.

“Let us not let the reign of darkness rule over us,” the priest said.

He appealed to the citizens to be extra vigilant and help the security forces because the latter alone could not totally secure the public.

Members of the elite Special Action Forces, along with two Simba armored personnel carriers, and village watchmen have been deployed in the vicinity of the church to secure the flock, the priest said.

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi said they placed the city under a lockdown following the grenade attack.

“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,” she said in a statement.

December 31 last year, a powerful blast also rocked a mall in Cotabato City, killing two persons and wounding 34 others, which the military also blamed to the Islamic State-inspired militants. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)