Investigators said two men on a motorcycle lobbed the grenade at the entrance of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Sto. Niño. Father Jay Virador of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate was then giving communion to churchgoers. File photo

Christmas Eve attack: 16 wounded in Cotabato
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2016 - 12:00am

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines – Sixteen were hurt in a grenade explosion in the vicinity of a Catholic church in Midsayap town at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, as people were attending a mass to celebrate Christmas.

Investigators said two men on a motorcycle lobbed the grenade at the entrance of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Sto. Niño. Father Jay Virador of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate was then giving communion to churchgoers.

Acting Gov. Shirlyn Macasarte condemned the attack as she called on residents to help probers identify the culprits and on the police to build an airtight case.

President Duterte reportedly visited the town for a quick briefing with local officials. Several FM stations in the province reported that the Chief Executive also inspected the church surroundings.

Some residents posted on Facebook photos of the presidential chopper hovering over the town proper past 3 p.m. yesterday.

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr., spokesman for the Regional Police Office-12 based in General Santos City, said one of the victims was SPO4 Johnny Caballero, a member of the Midsayap municipal police.

Sources from the town’s peace and order council said the perpetrators actually targeted the police pickup truck parked near the church entrance. The grenade hit the hood and fell on the concrete pavement before it went off.

“The explosion caused a commotion inside the church,” said 36-year-old worshiper Tina Monde.

Fr. Virador said he was giving communion when they heard a loud explosion outside the worship site, forcing many churchgoers to duck for cover. Others scampered in different directions.

Hurt in the incident were Roger Pedrosa, Ronald Celis, Chesser Rosete, Jofer Asis, Arnel Silvano, Jenelyn Silvano, Ejimar Loquiz, Princess Capunday, Jessa Mae Banlawi, Little Joy Singco, Jonel Orquiola, Kent Steven Pacquiao, Arissen Bagot, Ronald Duga and Caballero.

They were immediately rushed to different hospitals by responding policemen and barangay officials.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao told reporters via text message that he sympathizes with the victims even as Midsayap is not a component area of ARMM.

Midsayap, a booming agricultural town in the first district of North Cotabato, is 41 kilometers northwest of the ARMM’s regional capitol in Cotabato City.

“Whoever were behind the attack do not have religion. They are savages,” Hataman said in his text message.

Local officials are convinced the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which boasts of allegiance to the Independent State of Iraq and Syria, was responsible for the attack.

Army intelligence sources said the attack could be in retaliation for the arrest of five Maute terror group members in Barira town in Maguindanao last Thursday.

One of the five arrested terrorists, a former policeman named Jessy Vincent Original, had confessed to his involvement in the Sept. 2 Davao City bombing that left 15 people dead and injured more than 60 others.

The five Maute extremists were searching for a secluded area in Barira to hide six vehicles they planned to rig with improvised explosive devices when they were intercepted by policemen and the Army 37th Infantry Battalion.

Since early this month, the Midsayap municipal police have been on heightened alert because of the bombing threats made by the Maute group and its ally, the BIFF.

The Maute group is based in hinterland towns in the first district of Lanao del Sur while the BIFF operates in the second district of Maguindanao and nearby towns in North Cotabato. – With Roel Pareño

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