A Catholic cathedral and nearby radio station in the region of Cotabato on the island of Mindanao, Philippines were shaken by a grenade blast on Sunday that caused injury to at least 14 people. This was immediately followed by two more explosions: One by an IED in the town of Libungan, Cotabato province where six more were injured, and one in Upi, Maguindanao where two people were harmed.
According to MindaNews, three men riding motorcycles threw grenades at members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who were standing guard at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and a radio station owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. At least seven soldiers and several nearby civilians were injured by the explosion.
Military spokesperson Major Homer Estolas insisted the military guards were the target.
“It was clear that the suspects targeted the soldiers first,” he said. “The civilians were hurt because they were there waiting for their rides home.”
Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who previously called for martial law to be extended, condemned Sunday’s attacks. “Tonight is a sad and unfortunate night for all Cotabatenos. As of this time, 16 are reported wounded,” she said, urging citizens to “remain calm as our police and military have the situation under full control.”
She continued, “We can rise above these acts of terrorism. We are resilient and strong enough to fight against these people whose mission is to disrupt our peace. We must all be united in the face of these adversities.”
The region has been under martial law since 2017, following a series of attacks from suspected members of a local terrorist group. The bombings come just nine days before martial law was supposed to be lifted.
A spokesperson of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, Major Arvin Encinas, told ABS-CBN News that the military could not dismiss the possibility of radical Islamic terrorist-linked groups being involved in the attacks.
“We do not discount the possibility that Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Daesh-inspired groups are behind this,” he told the outlet.
BIFF is an extremist group with ties to the Islamic State that operates in the Asia-Pacific country.
According to Rappler News, Cotabato Governor Nancy Catamco condemned the grenade attacks as “terrorist acts.”
“The bombings in the Municipality of Libungan and in Cotabato City have struck another blow to our people’s sense of security that is still reeling from the losses, damages, and trauma of the recent earthquakes,” she said in a statement. “Let us keep in mind that these terrorist acts aim to instill fear and to spread panic. Therefore, I call on everyone to remain calm and to stay vigilant. We need to muster our courage and to strongly resist fear.”
The attacks are suspected to be connected to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which distributes certificates of land ownership awards to agrarian reform beneficiaries. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrived the following day in Cotabato to personally pass them out and to visit those injured in the explosions.
“He will distribute land certificates and then visit the venues where the bombing took place. I don’t know which of the two but one of them,” a spokesperson told the media.
BARMM is heavily opposed by Islamic State-tied radical Muslim organizations like BIFF and rebel group Abu Sayyaf, who have refused to enter negotiations with the Filipino government over the dispute.
“It is sad that this kind of violence is happening while we are celebrating the holy Christmas season,” one witness said, according to Morning Star News.
This series of attacks follows a similar one in November, when a man on a motorcycle threw a grenade inside a house in Aleosan town, Cotabato during a birthday party. Three people, including a child, were injured, according to Inquirer News, but no one was killed.