CAMP SK PENDATUN, Maguindanao del Sur – At least four persons were killed when a suspected improvised bomb went off inside the Mindanao State University (MSU-Marawi) gymnasium in Lanao del Sur while a Catholic mass was ongoing Sunday morning.
Col. Robert Daculan, Lanao del Sur police director, said the blast occurred at 7 a.m. just as the mass started.
"Many were down on the floor after the blast," Daculan said in a radio interview in Marawi City.
Lt. Col. Palawan Miondas, spokesperson of the Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the injured were taken to the Amai Pakpak Medical Center.
Initial forensic investigation showed that the explosion was caused by a grenade, according to Maj. Alinaid Moner, spokesperson of the Lanao del Sur Police Provincial Office.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said its "dedicated teams are on the ground, diligently working to establish the facts and identify the individuals or groups responsible for this despicable act."
"Our thoughts and condolences are with the families and friends of those who were injured and lost their lives in this unfortunate incident," PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said in a statement.
"We understand the pain and grief this incident has caused the community, and we stand in solidarity with the people of Marawi City," she added.
Fajardo said the PNP also appeal to the public to refrain from spreading unverified information.
"The PNP remains committed to prioritizing the safety and security of our citizens. We are determined to bring those responsible for this tragedy to justice and will provide the public with updates on any significant developments in the investigation," Fajardo said.
Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza, Police Regional Office of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PRO-BARMM) director, said the bombing may be connected to the killing of 11 members of the Dawlah Islamiyah (DI), including an alleged leader, in a military offensive in Datu Hoffer Ampatuan in Maguindanao del Sur on Friday.
“That was one of the angles na tinitingnan namin… (This was one of the angles we are looking into),” he told reporters in a phone interview.
Nobleza said authorities received information on the DI Maute group in Lanao del Sur that there is still a faction left even after the death of its leader.
He added they are still in the process of determining what kind of bomb or explosive was used in the attack.
“Inaalam pa namin kung ano talaga, kung IED (improvised explosive device) ba o grenade ang ginamit, iniimbestigahan pa ng ating ng EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) K9 ng Lanao Del Sur 'yung mga victims. Halo to, civilian kasi kwan to, misa to ng Catholic, katoliko, misa sa loob ng MSU kasi every Sunday may misa dyan gamit 'yun gym (We are still finding out what it is, whether an IED or a grenade was used. Our EOD K9 [unit] of Lanao Del Sur is still investigating the victims. It's a civilian activity because it's a Catholic mass, a mass inside MSU because every Sunday there is a mass there using that gym),” Nobleza said.
In a statement, Lanao del Sur 1st District Rep. Zia Alonto Adiong said he instructed his district office to gather information from the victims.
"We will extend medical assistance to the wounded. We will work closely with the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to sort this out and arrest the perpetrators behind this barbaric attack. Icocover namin ang medical expenses nila lahat. Hindi ito pwede palagpasin (We will cover all medical expenses. We won't let this pass)," he said.
Adiong and House Deputy Minority Leader and Basilan lone district representative Mujiv Hataman urged the national government to leave no stone unturned until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Hataman said there is no room for violence in a civilized society and that whoever is responsible should be penalized under the law.
“The perpetrators should be unmasked. Babantayan natin ang developments ng kasong ito para masiguro na magkaroon ng hustisya ang mga biktima at ang kanilang mga pamilya (We will monitor the developments of this case to ensure that there will be justice for all the victims and their families),” he said.
Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers described the bombing attack as “reprehensible” and “despicable” that demands the strongest condemnation.
Barbers said the attack is an affront to academic freedom, reverence to religious practices and the sanctity of human life.
Governor Mamintal Alonto Adiong Jr. condemned the “terroristic attack” and ordered the immediate identification and arrest of the perpetrators.
"Here in my province, we uphold basic human rights, and that includes the right to religion. Terroristic attacks on educational institutions must also be condemned because these are places that promote the culture of peace and mold our youth to be the future shapers of this country," he said.
The governor also condoled with the families of those who died and vowed to give justice to their deaths.
Senator Loren Legarda said it is crucial "to stand united, demonstrating resilience and solidarity in the face of such acts of violence."
"The bombing occurred during a religious occasion, underscoring the need for greater understanding and respect for diverse religious practices and beliefs," she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the state-run MSU later denied the campus is on lockdown.
It said there is no need or recommendation for a lockdown nor an evacuation of people inside the campus.
"The campus is under control," read the MSU statement.
It condemned the incident and vowed not to be deterred by “this act of violence.”
"We stand (in) solidarity with our Christian community and all those affected by this tragedy. We will not be deterred by this act of violence," read part of the MSU statement.
The MSU suspended all classes until further notice.
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim said the regional government was saddened and troubled by the incident.
“I condemn in the strongest terms these atrocious and cowardly acts. We stand firm and united against any form of violence and extremism that threatens the peace and harmony of our society,” Ebrahim said in a statement.
“Such acts not only take away innocent lives but also sow fear and discord among our people,” he added.
He said the regional government “was saddened and troubled by the devastating news.”
Ebrahim assured that the BARMM government is fully committed to supporting and cooperating with agencies tasked to investigate the attack. (With reports from Zaldy De Layola/PNA)
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