Catholic, Muslim leaders decry bomb attacks in Mindanao

At least 8 hurt in latest blast blamed on groups looking to derail peace efforts in region
Catholic, Muslim leaders decry bomb attacks in Mindanao

A police investigator, left, gathers evidence at the site of a bomb blast in Isulan town on the southern island of Mindanao on Aug. 28. (Photo by AFP)

Catholic and Muslim leaders in the southern Philippines have condemned a spate of bombings that have rocked the island of Mindanao in recent weeks.

The last attack occurred on Sept. 16 in General Santos City. At least eight people, including a 6-year-old girl were injured by the blast next to a pharmacy in the Crossing Makar area of the city.

It was the third bombing to hit Mindanao in recent weeks. Two bombings in the town of Isulan on Sept. 2 and Aug. 28 killed five people.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato said the attacks were the result of dissatisfaction among some Moro groups with the upcoming establishment of a new Muslim region in the south.

In July, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law that aims to give greater autonomy to Muslims in the southern Philippines.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law comes into effect four years after the government signed a peace agreement with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro ended an armed struggle waged by the MILF since it broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the late 1970s.

However, another breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), is opposed to the deal.

"They continue fighting not to destroy peace but because of their ideology," Cardinal Quevedo said.

"Their ideology, heavily influenced by ISIS is to attack the military and civilians," added the prelate.

Sheik Abu Huraira Udasan, grand mufti in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said Islamic State supporters in Mindanao want to show that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

"There are still ISIS elements in Mindanao, and they want to show that they are still here," said Udasan.

On Sept. 18, the MILF ordered its fighters to go after those behind the bombings.

"We commanded our forces to investigate and find the conspirators and perpetrators of these bombings," said Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF chairman.

He also ordered his men "to take active measures to prevent similar incidents in their respective areas."

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General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said the bombing on Sept. 16 was a "cowardly attempt aimed at destabilizing peace and economic progress."

"We will never surrender to these threats. We will not let fear and terrorism sink us," he said.

In May last year, Islamic State-aligned militants belonging to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups attacked the city of Marawi in a bid to establish a so-called caliphate.

The five-month conflict displaced close to half a million people and destroyed the city. 

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