Military personnel stand guard at the entrance of a gymnasium while police investigators look for evidence after a bomb attack at Mindanao State University in Marawi, Lanao del sur province on December 3, 2023. (Photo: AFP)
The humanitarian arm of the Philippines Church has called for security at Christian gatherings in the wake of a deadly bombing at a Mass in the Catholic-majority nation.
“Concerted efforts must be made to prevent the recurrence of such violent incidents and to safeguard the fundamental right to worship without fear," Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, president of Caritas Philippines, said, reacting to the death of four students at a Mass at Mindanao State University in Marawi, the country's largest Muslim city, in the restive southern Philippines, on Dec. 3.
I am appalled “by the blatant act of terror that the perpetrators were able to commit,” the prelate said of the blast that also wounded 50 others and was caused by an improvised explosive device.
The president of the pontifical charity in the archipelago urged all stakeholders, including the government and religious leaders, “to collaborate” to foster peace.
In a statement, Caritas Philippines expressed condolences to the victims and their families.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. issued a stern warning to the perpetrators.
"Rest assured, we will bring the perpetrators of this ruthless act to justice.”
Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, is home to many Islamist insurgent groups.
The Philippine military wrested back Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur, in the southern Philippines after months of fighting Islamic-State fighters who seized it in May 2017.
During the Marawi siege, Mindanao State University became a center point of the government forces.
On Dec. 3, the university suspended classes and all academic activities "until further notice” and deployed additional security personnel.
"We stand in solidarity with our Christian community and all those affected by this tragedy," the university said in a statement.
The government believes the bombing might have been a revenge attack following a “decisive military operation” by the army that killed 11 members of the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the remote village of Datu Hoffer Ampatuan town on Dec. 1.
What happened this Sunday morning could be a “retaliatory attack," said chief of the army General Romeo Brawner Jr. at a press conference on Dec. 3.
On Dec. 4, Brigadier General Allan Nobleza, Bangsamoro police chief, said the probe was progressing well.
“In order not to preempt the investigation, we will not divulge names,” said Nobleza on a morning TV program.
In 2014, the government inked a peace pact with the largest rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, However, militant attacks on buses, Catholic churches and public markets continued by smaller bands of Muslim fighters opposed to the peace deal.