Security measures in churches stepped up to prevent repeat of deadly bombing in southern Philippines
Soldiers stand guard outside a Catholic Church in Davao after a 2016 bomb explosion in the city. (ucanews.com file photo)
Bags, knapsacks, backpacks and boxes will not be allowed inside churches and chapels in Davao Archdiocese in the southern Philippines.
"Only small purses and the like are allowed," said the prelate in a circular issued on Jan. 29, adding that the policy is being implemented because of the "current threat of violence" in the region.
Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Felimon Santos said the bishop's directive will "strengthen the implementation of martial law" in the region.
"[We] appreciate the advisory and directive of the Catholic Church.... It contributes to the objective of preventing terrorism," said the senior officer from the army's Eastern Mindanao Command.
An underground Christian group, meanwhile, alleged that the Mindanao bombings early this week were "aimed to create tension" between Christians and Muslims in the region.
A grenade was also thrown into a mosque in Zamboanga on Jan. 30, killing two Muslim religious leaders.
"This is an old tactic that people or groups of people with great interest in the politics and economy of Mindanao use to further divide Christians and Muslims," read a statement from the Christians for National Liberation, a group affiliated with the rebel National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
The group called on the people of Mindanao to "unite and suppress any attempt to make it appear that there is a religious war between religions."
Church leaders earlier called for the continuation of the peace process in the southern Philippines.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro said the attacks should not sidetrack the pursuit of lasting peace.
Oblates missionary priest Roberto Layson, who heads the inter-religious dialogue program of his congregation in Mindanao, said dialogue needs to be strengthened.
Years of conflict has left "invisible wounds of war" and put a wedge between Christians and Muslims.
In January, Mindanao residents ratified a law that will expand the current Muslim autonomous region in the southern Philippines.
The creation of a new political entity is part of a peace deal entered into by the Philippine government with Moro rebels in 2014.
However, the peace deal does not guarantee genuine peace due to the "anger, biases and prejudices because of experiences in the past," Father Layson said.
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