Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr condemned a deadly bombing on Sunday, blaming “foreign terrorists”, as the police and the military strengthened security in the country’s south and around the capital Manila.
By Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr condemned a deadly bombing on Sunday, blaming “foreign terrorists”, as the police and the military strengthened security in the country’s south and around the capital Manila.
At least four people were killed and at least 50 injured after a bomb exploded during a morning Catholic Mass in a university gymnasium in Marawi, a city in the south of the country besieged by Islamist militants for five months in 2017.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists,” Marcos said in a statement. “Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as enemies to our society.”
Law enforcement operations to bring to justice the perpetrators of the “terrorist activity” will “continue unabated”, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told a press conference.
There were “strong indications of a foreign element” in the bombing, Teodoro said, refusing to elaborate so as not to compromise ongoing investigation.
Fragments of a 16mm mortar were recovered at the scene, senior police official Emmanuel Peralta told the press conference.
The blast in Marawi, capital of Lanao del Sur province, followed a series of military operations against local pro-Islamic State groups in the southern Philippines, the military chief said, including one on Sunday in Lanao del Sur that led to the killing of a leader of the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group.
“It is possible that what happened this morning was a retaliatory attack,” Armed Forces Chief Romeo Brawner told the press conference.
The Islamic State-linked Maute seized Marawi on May 2017, seeking to make it a Southeast Asian “wilayat” – or governorate – for Islamic State. In the ensuing five-month battle, Islamist fighters and Philippine forces killed more than a thousand people, including civilians.
Military officials surveyed the gym at the Mindanao State University, which appeared intact except for burn marks in the centre where the explosion occurred, according to images shared by the Lanao del Sur government on Facebook. White plastic chairs were strewn about.
Videos posted by DZBB radio on X showed rescuers carrying injured people out of the gym on plastic chairs.
Police offices in Mindanao and the capital region were placed on high alert and police checkpoints tightened “to prevent possible follow-up incidents”, police official Peralta said.
The coast guard directed its districts to intensify pre-departure inspection at ports.
Mindanao State University is “deeply saddened and appalled by the act of violence that occurred during a religious gathering,” the school posted on Facebook. “We unequivocally condemn in the strongest possible terms this senseless and horrific act.”
The university said it was said it was suspending classes until further notice.
QUAKE KILLS ONE
Meanwhile, Philippine residents were allowed to return to their homes on Sunday after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck the country’s south, killing at least one person, with disaster officials reporting minor damage to some infrastructure.
The Saturday night quake shook parts of Surigao Del Sur and Davao Oriental provinces, triggering coastal evacuations and tsunami alerts in the country and in Japan.
A woman was killed when a wall collapsed as she and her family were fleeing their home in search of safety in Tagum city in Davao del Norte province, said disaster official Mon Cabonilas.
“The tsunami threat associated with this earthquake has now largely passed the Philippines,” the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said in a statement but advised people in threatened communities to heed the instructions from local authorities.
In the coastal town of Carrascal in Surigao del Sur, all evacuees have returned to their homes, disaster official Antonio told DWPM radio station. “We are ready in case there is a need to evacuate again.”
More than 600 aftershocks were recorded, and Phivolcs urged caution as people resumed normal activities.
The Philippine Coast Guard put all its vessels and aircraft on alert for potential dispatch.
“We started going back to our homes early on Sunday, although we are still shaking because of aftershocks,” Julita Bicap, 51, a front desk staffer at GLC Suites hotel in the seaside town of Bislig, said on Sunday morning after power was restored.
“There are aftershocks even now. Last night we were at the evacuation centre, including my two foreigner guests. One of them came back to the hotel already,” Bicap told Reuters, adding that she noticed a small crack in the hotel’s front wall.
Authorities recorded minor damage to homes, while the aviation agency reported minor cracks on wall tiles in some regional airports.
The strongest aftershock was magnitude 6.5, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.
Earthquakes are common in the Philippines, which lies on the “Ring of Fire”, a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is prone to seismic activity.