Bishop Urges People To Pray, Dialogue Following Iligan Bombings
December 22 2008
After two explosions in a shopping area killed two people on Dec. 18, Bishop Elenito Galido of Iligan has implored people in his southern Philippine diocese to pray for victims and work harder for peace.
"We cannot allow ourselves to be engulfed by darkness and be powerless in the face of death," Bishop Galido wrote in "A Call to Prayer and Communal Action During this Christmas Season," his pastoral statement dated Dec. 21.
Two shop clerks were killed and 47 injured in the explosions on Dec. 18 in Iligan City, 780 kilometers southeast of Manila. On Dec. 19, a sales clerk reportedly told police about a "suspicious" package left near Unicity and Gerry´s Store, where the blasts had occurred within 20 minutes of each other.
Bishop Galido´s statement condemns the bombings as "senseless violence" and exhorts the perpetrators to "repent and to stop from being instruments of death and violence!" It also calls on residents "to pray intensely for the victims of the recent bombings," and urges civil and the military authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.
"This way," the prelate wrote, "speculations that can only deepen mutual distrust will stop and the wheels of justice (can) take their course."
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but local police are exploring the possible involvement of groups in the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a rebel force that demands self-rule over vast areas of Mindanao Island, the southern Philippines.
Colonel Nicanor Dolojan, chief of the Army´s 403rd brigade, told UCA News on Dec. 18 the military suspects "lawless MILF" because improvised explosive devices crafted from mortar rounds found at the bomb sites have the front´s "signature." He said "their real intention" is "to sow terror in the area."
However, the MILF condemned the blasts in a statement posted on its official website (www.luwaran.com). "We join the civilized world in condemning this satanic activity," says the statement issued by Muhammad Muntassir, chair of the Front´s committee on da´wah (Islamic call).
Another report there claims that the recent Iligan bombings are "handiwork of the dirty department of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)" to "´demonize´ the MILF and justify military offensive against it." The report says violence by rebels would only increase the AFP´s "justification for the declaration of martial law or state of emergency throughout the country."
MILF Commander Bravo has admitted in a nationally televised interview that his forces raided towns in Lanao del Norte province on Aug. 18 after the Supreme Court issued a restraining order blocking government peace negotiators from signing an agreement on ancestral domain.
Clashes continue as government troops pursue Bravo, Abulraham Makapaar, who is accused with Bravo of leading attacks in Lanao, and Commander Umbra Kato for alleged attacks in northern Cotabato earlier in August.
Iligan diocese serves Iligan City and parts of Lanao del Norte province, and 64 percent of the 1.4 million people there are Catholics. Most of the rest are other Christians, Muslims and indigenous people with native beliefs.
On Dec. 22, Rodolfo Palma, secretary of San Roque Parish in Iligan, told UCA News fewer people were going to "Misa de Gallo," the pre-Christmas dawn novena Masses that drew large crowds to his parish before the bombings.
Recalling the August raid and the fighting and massive dislocation that followed, Bishop Galido´s statement stresses the urgency of peace-building efforts and inter-faith dialogue, "no matter how modest our efforts are."
The bombings, he acknowledged, leave many finding it "difficult to think of this Christmas season as a time of reconciliation, harmony and peace." He also said, "Our hearts are filled with sadness even as we find ourselves in deep anxiety over the recent events," but he urged the faithful "not to fall into despair but to look to the future with hope that this violence will end."
Military authorities have declared the highest alert level and deployed more soldiers at roadblocks around Iligan City, which is home to 308,000 people.
Tanks and soldiers with machine guns have already been posted and about 100 police officers will be deployed around the city.