01/27/2019, 14.30
PHILIPPINES
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PIME missionary on Jolo attacks says dialogue continues, despite everything

At least 27 people were killed and 77 wounded this morning at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Abu Sayyaf is the main suspect. The victims include people leaving for the installation of the new archbishop of Cotabato.

Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – The morning’s attacks at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo (Sulu) show that "even here, in the Philippines, dangerous Islamist ideologies are spreading. Despite everything, dialogue between Muslims and Christians continues and is the only way to follow," said Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra, missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), speaking to AsiaNews.

in Mindanao for over 40 years, the clergyman is the founder of the Silsilah movement and serves as executive secretary of the Commission for interreligious dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

At least 27 people died in the twin-blast against the cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo this morning.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) police Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares confirmed that the death toll included 19 civilians and seven members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as well as a Coast Guard (PGI) sailor. The number of wounded rose to 77: 59 civilians, 14 AFP members, two PCG members and two agents of the national police (PNP).

The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) earlier said two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were used to attack the cathedral. One IED exploded inside the cathedral, and another at the entrance

PNP spokesperson Senior Superintendent Bernard Banac said that the second explosion occurred as AFP personnel responded to the first explosion.

Arnel dela Vega, chief of the Philippine military's Western Mindanao Command, said that, based on previous threats, the primary suspect behind the bombing is still the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group, but this is subject to "further assessment and validation."

"Jolo, the former capital of Sulu Sultanate, is a historic place for Mindanao Muslims,” said Fr D’Ambra. “Christians represent a small minority. Over the years, violence and threats by radical groups have forced them to flee the city. At present, only a few thousand remain.”

"Jolo cathedral is located in the centre of the city and is always guarded by the military, because it is a sensitive target. In the past, relations between Muslims and Christians were very good. This is demonstrated by the central position of the church.

"More recently though, with the rise of various fundamentalist groups, the place of cult of worship has been targeted by those who want its destruction.”

Since 2000, the church and its immediate area have been the subject of several attacks, nine in all, costing the lives of 11 people and injuring another 59.

"It is sad to think that Mgr Angelito Rendon Lampon, bishop of Jolo, will be installed in the coming days (31 January) as the new archbishop of Cotabato. To take part in the celebrations, some of the faithful left this morning, before the attack, and were saved. Others planned to leave tonight and they include some who unfortunately lost their lives ".

Today's attack comes just a few hours after a referendum on the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in  Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which ended with the victory for autonomy.

"In Jolo the no vote won, an odd but predictable outcome. A very influential Islamic leader, Sakur Tan, had invited people to oppose autonomy. His political plans are not very clear, but the ethnic group he represents, the Tausugs, have always expressed dissatisfied with the Maguindanao, an Islamic group called to manage the transition phase towards the autonomous Bangsamoro, "says Fr. D'Ambra.

“Dialogue will start again, and we will be able to launch a positive message: people should not be discouraged. We must hope that Muslims will take up a position on the front line.”

“If, on the one hand, the attacks in Jolo increase fears; on the other, they will instill more courage. I hope that more and more people understand that we cannot continue like this."

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