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Bomb attack on Cotabato City cathedral kills five, hurts 29

(Update) KIDAPAWAN, Philippines – Five people were killed and 29 others injured in a bomb attack on a Roman Catholic church in Cotabato City on Sunday morning, officials said. The death toll rose after hospital officials confirmed that one of the injured, identified as Elmer Noble, succumbed to severe injuries hours after the blast. The improvised explosive device (IED) went off at a lechon (roasted pig) house in front of the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral along Quezon Avenue at around 8:50 a.m., the Cotabato City police said. The explosion took place just as people were leaving the Church after the second Mass, which ended at around 8:45 a.m. Officials earlier said two of the victims were killed on the spot. One was identified as Ruby Ramirez, 43, of Philippine Trade in Barangay Bulalo in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao and owner of LC Omega Lechon Haus where the explosive was planted. The other was unidentified and known only to be mentally ill. Two of the victims died at the Cotabato City Emergency and Medical Specialist Hospital not long after the blast. One was identified as Prince Salem Cang Diaz, grand son of Patricio Diaz, former editor-in-chief of Cotabato-based The Mindanao Cross. The other was known only as Paulo Kahar. Noble, the fifth fatality, was a 32-year-old member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu), officials said. He died at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center (CRMC). Among those injured who were taken to the CRMC along Sinsuat Avenue were Jay C. Cergas, 29; his wife, Priscilyn, 27; and 3-year old son Vincent Jay. The others were identified as Datu Manod Abedin; Nestor Luna, 29; Rey Silo Callado, 38; Rosita Echavez; Sonny Ilian; Purificacion Alviar; Rodrigo Ominga; Mado Guiamad; Jocelyn Abdulla, 38; Ferdinand Benora, 27; Gramatica Purling; Mohammad Tipadan; Maricel Escanel, 29; Jerrimae Dapilan, 18; Junreil Sayre, 9; Danisa Sayre, 11; Joeffrey Sayre, 1; Giovanni Lomigcit, 19; Jayvil Joy Caida, 13; and Sgt. Freddie Millan, a CAFGU commander. Six victims who were rushed to the Cotabato City Emergency and Medical Specialist were identified as Aldrian Sinapilo, Amilil Kahabudin, Torla Arliechos, Jun Parcon, Weng Garcia, and Zacaria Ampang. Authorities arrested a still unidentified male they suspected to be the attacker, minutes after the blast, according to Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema. The suspect was placed under the custody of the Cotabato City Police, Sema said. Terror attack Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, said the explosion was obviously targeted at churchgoers. “They are no longer choosing their targets. They are targeting even the worshippers," he said. One churchgoer who identified himself only as Joel said: “There is no other motive why the group behind this attacked the Church. The explosive was meant to kill and inflict harm." Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, chief of the Armed Forces’ Public Information Office, said suspected members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) staged the attack. “It is plainly terrorism kasi sa mga pagsabog na ginagawa sa populated areas, these are the signature of the SOG (special operations group) ng MILF," he told dzBB radio in an interview. MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu also condemned the bombing and called for an independent investigation to find out who were really involved. “This handiwork of heartless people deserve to be condemned in the strongest terms. We are calling for an independent body to investigate and get the truth about the incident," he said in a text messages to GMANews.TV. Terror attacks targeting churches are nothing new in Mindanao but this was the first one in years.

Sacrilege Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato condemned the latest atrocity in central Mindanao and called it a "sacrilege." “The Church they attacked is a place of refuge, even for criminals. People were worshiping when the bomb went off. This is not just a crime, this is a sacrilege," said Quevedo, who was the mass celebrator when the powerful blast happened. Quevedo was concluding his homily when the bomb went off, he said. “When I heard the blast and saw smoke, I told my parishioners to stay calm and not panic. But I can’t control the crowd," he recounted. Quevedo has called on the Catholic faithful, well-meaning individuals, and those with other faiths to pray for the conversion of the bombers. “Violence does not achieve anything. Violence begets violence. Let’s all pray for the conversion of the bombers," Quevedo said in an interview over Oblate-ran dxMS. Fr. Edwin de Gracia, parish priest of the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral, asked, “Why did they do it here in a Church? This is a heinous crime." De Gracia was celebrating a mass along Mabini Street in Cotabato City when the bombing took place. Despite the attack, Masses would still be heard at the Cathedral. “There is no change in the schedule. Our Mass will continue as scheduled. We will celebrate the mass no matter what. This is a time to pray and ask for guidance," said de Gracia. 'Leave no stone unturned' Malacaňang, meanwhile, ordered law enforcement agencies to "leave no stone unturned" in investigating and bringing to justice of the culprits behind of the bombing. Press secretary Cerge Remonde said President Arroyo also directed the Department of Social Welfare and Development to assist the victims. On allegations that rogue MILF members maybe involved, Remonde said he was confident that the attack won't derail the peace negotiations between the government and the Muslim group. He said the government remains determined to proceed with the negotiations with the MILF. The government's chief negotiator said they expect the talks to resume this month. Presidential adviser for Mindanao Jesus Dureza branded the attack an “act of terrorism" and a “murderous act of insanity" aimed at inflicting injury and misery on hapless and innocent civilians civilians. Dureza said the incident, however, “cannot and will not succeed in instilling fear and weaken the peace-loving populace. On the contrary, this incident will all the more strengthen the affected community’s resolve to contend with and overcome the evil designs of those behind this cowardly act of treachery and violence." He enjoined peace-loving citizens of the country, especially in Mindanao, to unite and help the government in ridding the society of the terrorist menace. “Government security forces will track down those responsible. In the meantime, the victims need immediate assistance. President Arroyo has directed us to attend to this with dispatch," he added. 2nd blast in 12 hours Sunday's bombing was the second in the area in 12 hours. On Saturday evening, another blast caused by a 60-milimeter mortar explosive occurred in Barangay Buayan in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao province. Another 81mm mortar explosive was discovered near the scene of the blast. Members of the Army’s 54th Infantry Battalion had cordoned off the area while waiting for operatives from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team of the military to detonate the 81-mm mortar explosive. No one was reported killed in the blast but three were injured. They were identified as Kudting Latip, Adshare Akmad, and Mohaliden Undungan. The military pointed at rogue members of the MILF as behind the Datu Piang bombing. But the MILF pointed the finger back at the military. In an article in its website,, the MILF said civilians and security men at the residence of the local mayor claimed to have seen a person clad in an MILF military uniform at the blast site hours before the explosion. "When they followed the suspicious person, they saw him going inside the detachment of the 54th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army at Barangay Gumbay in Datu Piang," said the report. "Civilians believe that the bomb explosion is handiwork of military forces which they said is already using dirty tactics after exhausting all tactics that failed in defeating a base command of the MILF in Maguindanao under Ustaz Umbra Kato for almost a year now since August last year. “The military is doing everything to make the fellow Moro people fight and kill each other and blame MILF for the upheaval," the report added. - with Geonarri Solmerano and Sophia M. Dedace, GMANews.TV