ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 24 August) — At least 14 persons, including seven soldiers, were killed while 75 others were wounded as two powerful explosions rocked Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, Monday in a span of just an hour, the local police and military said.
The Jolo Municipal Police Station reported the first blast occurred at 11:53 a.m., shortly before the noontime Islamic prayer, near Paradise Enterprises Grocery and Syntax along Serrantes Street corner Plaza Rizal in Barangay Walled City.
It added the second explosion happened over an hour later at 1:03 p.m. also in Barangay Walled City, reportedly a hundred meters away from the site of the first blast.
Serrantes Street is one of Jolo’s busy roads and Syntax is a popular computer shop in the area that is next to Paradise Enterprises.
The wounded victims were rushed to the Camp General Teodulfo Bautista hospital and the Sulu provincial hospital for treatment.
Jolo Mayor Kerkhar Tan ordered a total lockdown in the locality about three hours after the first explosion rocked the downtown area.
“Cancelation of entry and exit to and from Jolo shall be strictly enforced except on some special cases,” he said in a public advisory.
The mayor did not elaborate what could be considered as special cases.
Tan said the lockdown will be lifted until the investigation is finished.
Col. Antonio Rafael Abundabar, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said in a statement that six soldiers died and 16 others were wounded in the first explosion.
Four civilians were also reportedly killed and nine others were wounded in the incident, he added.
While troops were cordoning off the bomb site, a suicide bomber attempted to penetrate the area and blasted himself near the Development Bank of the Philippines, in front of New Trading along Sanchez St, Barangay Walled City, at 1 p.m. which resulted in the killing of one soldier and the wounding of nine government forces (three soldiers and six Philippine National Police personnel), Abundabar said.
In a statement, the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) said the soldiers belonged to the Army’s 21st Infantry Battalion, under the 11th Division.
The JTFS said that a parked motorcycle near an M-35 military truck exploded, resulting to the numerous casualties. Security forces immediately cordoned off the area.
The JTFS vowed to bring the perpetrators of the carnage behind the bars of justice. The military suspected the Islamic State-aligned Abu Sayyaf Group to be behind the twin bombings.
Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, condemned the deadly explosions to hit Sulu, one of the provinces under the new Bangsamoro region, anew.
“We condemn in the strongest possible words the twin bombings in Jolo today that killed innocent civilians and state forces out to buy their food supplies. We sympathize with the families of the victims and express our solidarity with the people of Sulu,” he said.
Fatmawati Salapuddin, former Commissioner of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, also condemned the twin explosions.
“Who will possibly bomb a province with a 98-percent Muslim population? We cannot trust that investigations are accurate and true. So, as Muslims we can only turn to the Almighty and pray hard that the mastermind to all these chaos will be revealed,” she told MindaNews.
Preciosa Chiong, Philippine National Red Cross Sulu administrator, said in a phone interview that during the first explosion, Red Cross responders attended to the wounds of a woman and three men, all civilians.
As of posting time, the military and the police were still conducting a parallel investigation.
The first explosion occurred near the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo where at least 20 persons were killed during the twin explosions in January last year, said Sonny Abing, Sulu information officer.
“The wounds are still fresh and here we go again. I woke up with the news and graphic photos from back home. I can’t deny the anger I feel for the low lives behind these heartless acts,” said Lloyd Joshua Reyes, son of broadcaster Romy Reyes who, along with his wife, died during the bombing of the Jolo Cathedral last year. (With a report from Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)