Bombings in Mindanao, Philippines continue as election nears

Photo from Youtube screengrab

A series of bombings terrorized several cities in Mindanao, Philippines last week.

On Jan 27, two consecutive explosions in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, a city in the southernmost part of Mindanao, killed 21 and injured more than a hundred people.

Two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) hidden in backpacks were detonated by a cellphone, according to authorities.

Among those killed include civilians attending mass, military personnel, and police deployed at the site.
Three days later, a grenade exploded at a Maharlika mosque in Talon-Talon, Zamboanga that killed 2 and injured 3 people as they slept.
Authorities have yet to confirm whether the bombings in Jolo and Zamboanga are connected.
On Feb 5, a day before an important plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), three separate grenade blasts shook the region of Lanao del Norte. The first was in Kauswagan, followed by another blast at gas station near Maranding, and the last at the Mindanao State University High School at Sultan Naga Dimaporo.
None were reported to have been injured or killed in the Lanao del Norte blasts.

Peace negotiations

The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), ratified just last Jan 25, addresses the need of Muslims for self-government and aims to replace the current Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao which was deemed too reliant on central Manila government.

The BOL is considered the fruit of peace talks that spanned decades between the Philippine government and rebel groups.

Despite the rising violence, military officials insist that “everything is under control” and that people should practice their right to vote during the Feb 6 BOL plebiscite.

Suspects

ISIS initially claimed responsibility for the bombings in Jolo. But military authorities have arrested five suspects linked to the Abu Sayyaf to the cathedral bombings.

Two Indonesian nationals are prime suspects for the suicide bombing in Jolo along with three Filipinos who guided the foreigners.

The government of Indonesia has reached out and offered assistance in verifying the identities of the alleged suicide bombers.

Security measures

Thousands of military and police forces were deployed in Lanao del Norte for the Feb 6 BOL plebiscite for added security measures.

Davao City, the home of President Duterte, recently banned the use of backpacks in fear of a repeat of the Jolo bombing. The city has also been riddled with hoax bomb threats that were spread through text messages.

Metro Manila, the capital, has heightened security measures in malls and transport terminals. Similar to airport policies, citizens riding the Manila MRT are now banned from bringing water and other beverages in bottles.

Presidential spokesperson Panelo says that the country is still “a safe haven” and that the violence is unlikely to spread to other outside cities.

Martial Law

Mindanao has been under Martial Law since the 2017 Siege of Marawi where the ISIS-affiliated Maute group seized control of the city, clashing with Philippine military forces for over five months.

Martial law in Mindanao has been extended until Dec 31, 2019 in fear of another Marawi incident. The Philippine government argues that the recent church and mosque bombings justify the extension of martial law.

These recent bombings add to a long history of violence and religious extremism in Mindanao amidst peace negotiations and various stakeholders’ efforts for just and lasting peace.
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