MANILA – Amid fears that the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) may next target malls and churches in Metro Manila, President Rodrigo Duterte this week declared an all-out war against the terrorist group with links to the global ISIS network, known for its extreme brutality.
The bombing of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in the southern province of Jolo during a regular Sunday mass last Jan. 27 resulted in at least 21 fatalities and more than a hundred church goers injured, with some in critical condition.
Following the explosion of two bombs within seconds of each other, rumors spread like wildfire that the terrorists were eyeing an even bigger target in Metro Manila.
By Wednesday, Jan 30, the Philippine National Police (PNP) tried to alleviate the public’s fears by saying there was no confirmed reports of such a plot.
Still, all the major malls in the metropolis were placed on alert with heightened security, including bomb-sniffing dogs. While the National Capital Region Police Office dismissed the reported threats, it still promised to beef up security measures in Metro Manila.
President Duterte visited the cathedral at the start of the week and then ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines along with the PNP to wage an all-out war against the ASG, which claimed responsibility for the attack.
The president said he had “no doubt” that it was work of the ASG and that he wanted to “destroy” the terrorist group.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lazaro said he was inclined to believe that the bombing was the work of a suicide bomber. He, however, noted that there has never been a suicide bomber in the Philippines.
If the Jolo bombing was the work of a suicide bomber – possibly two, based on an initial theory – it would be the first ever and would serve as a warning to the government that the global terrorist network of ISIS had indeed gained a foothold on the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Malacang said the words of Mr. Duterte – who has been consistently attacking the Catholic Church and its hierarchy since becoming chief executive – had nothing to do with the bombing.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said it was not the president’s words but rather the disrespect of the bombers for the Catholic Church that was the spur for the attack on churchgoers.
Panelo said, “The President is outraged. He’s so angry that they have not respected a place of worship – that’s why he declared war against all these perpetrators.”