MANILA, Philippines — Pandemonium broke loose inside a chapel in a tightly guarded police camp in Sulu’s capital town of Jolo when a loud explosion ripped through the religious establishment during a morning Christmas mass on Saturday, police officials said.
Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin said the officiating priest, later identified as Father Bacolcol, and at least 10 devotees were wounded in the bomb attack.
Some of the wounded devotees were identified as Emma Tan, 29; Antonette Quinones, 30; a certain Dr. Lao; Anna Marie Gerasul, 9; Tama Indata, 33; and Danny Chag, 50.
“We have yet to identify the suspects, investigation is ongoing,” said Chief Superintendent Felicisimo Khu, commander of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations (DIPO)-Western Mindanao, in a phone interview.
The blast occurred at around 7 a.m. on Saturday at the Evangelical Chapel located inside Camp Asturias, the headquarters of the Sulu Provincial Police Office.
The military said about 100 worshippers were reportedly attending the Christmas Day mass when the blast rocked the chapel.
“It’s impossible to just hurl the IED towards the chapel, somebody brought the bomb inside,” said Khu.
Aside from policemen, Khu said the police headquarters are guarded by Marine commandos whose presence was requested by the priest of the chapel three days ago over personal information that something would happen in the area.
Like Khu, Amin expressed surprised how the suspects were able to plant the explosive inside the church as Marines are securing the place day and night. The mayor added that three days ago, the Marines cleared the area of any explosive.
Amin added that the chapel, located inside the police camp, is also secured by policemen.
“The explosion occurred about 10 meters away from the altar,” said Khu.
Initial result of the investigation revealed that the bomb might have been placed on the rooftop of the chapel.
“The explosion damaged the metal roof and ceiling,” said Khu.
Mayor Amin, however, said the bomb was packed in a plastic bag and was planted at the right corner of the altar where flower decorations were displayed for the Christmas Day mass.
The explosive, he said, has no shrapnel and was possibly not meant to kill devotees but only to sow terror and fear among the people.
He said a cell phone could have been used to detonate the explosive.
A separate police report revealed that the altar incurred minor damage as a result of the blast.
Khu said they are yet to verify the report, including separate information that a mother of a recently-freed kidnap victim in Sulu was also among those injured.
Khu said they are still conducting investigation to determine if the Jolo explosion is related to the foiled bombing at a bus terminal in Kabacan, North Cotabato last Friday.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) leadership immediately condemned the bombing, describing the attack as insensitive and
“It came like a thief in the night sowing terror and grief to the worshippers who were celebrating the birth of Jesus,” said Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz, Jr., PNP spokesman.
“Let this incident be a cue to all faithful, whether Christians, Muslims or other religions, to condemn this and similar dastardly attacks on helpless citizens,” he added.
Cruz said that the PNP leadership has already ordered a thorough investigation on the incident to identify and bring to justice all the perpetrators.
Reacting to the blast, Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong said: “I strongly condemn this act. This is un-Islamic, especially because it happened on Christmas Day. We have a harmonious relationship with Christians here. The perpetrators want to undermine the government’s initiative to achieve peace in the country.