Christian and Muslim leaders in the southern Philippines have warned against moves to derail the peace process in the region following a recent spate of bomb attacks in Mindanao. Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato
has even called on Muslim rebel groups to help find those responsible for the bombings that killed a catechist
on Sept. 2. In condemning the bombings, the prelate said that religion seemed to have been distorted in recent months to "commit brazen crimes that cry out to heaven." Cardinal Quevedo, who has called Muslim rebel groups as "forces of peace now," has been at the forefront of rallying support for the Mindanao peace process. The military, however, blamed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, for explosions in Isulan, a city in Sultan Kudarat province that have killed five people and wounded at least 50 others since Aug. 28. On July 31, at least a dozen people were killed when a bomb exploded at an army checkpoint in Basilan province. Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the peace-implementing panel of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front
, said the bomb attacks were "the handiwork of barbarians." Without mentioning names, the rebel leader said, "hawkish elements are out to derail the desired just and lasting peace" in the southern Philippines. He lamented that the bomb attacks occurred as the government and the rebels were preparing for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law that would establish an expanded autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao. "Spoilers of peace are intensifying their acts to derail the dawning of peace in Mindanao," said Iqbal, adding that the perpetrators must be arrested and made to suffer the full force of the law. He also called on the public to support the creation of the new Muslim region despite efforts by some groups to sabotage the peace initiatives. Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
, also noted that the attacks came at a time when "peace is dawning" in the southern part of the country. "We should not let violence hold sway or stop us from achieving this peace we all want and need," said the governor, adding that the bomb attacks were "spawned by extremism." Authorities in Manila said reports that the recent bombings in Mindanao were a pretext for extending martial law in the region were "irresponsible speculation". "These bombings harm innocent people, and that would be furthest from the minds of the armed forces and the police," police spokesman Benigno Durana Jr. said.
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President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across Mindanao on May 23, 2017. Congress initially extended it by six months and eventually, until December this year.