COTABATO CITY?The archbishop was delivering a sermon about peacemakers when a powerful explosion ripped through a nearby store selling roasted pigs, rocking the packed cathedral.
Churchgoers screamed and rushed to the altar. Others fell, wounded or dying, including a woman lechon vendor whose arm was torn off.
In the bloodiest of a spate of bomb attacks that have rocked parts of Mindanao in recent weeks, five people were killed and about 45 wounded Sunday when a homemade bomb tore through the lechon store outside the Cotabato Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
Two people were taken in for questioning and Malacañang condemned the attack.
?Those who seek to sow terror and chaos, destabilize the government and constitutional order will not go unpunished,? the Palace warned in a statement.
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the ?heinous? attack and said resorting to violence never solved anything.
?While praying to God for the victims of this heinous act, I once again condemn the recourse to violence which is never a just way to resolve existing problems,? the Pope said during Angelus prayers.
Sunday?s blast occurred after bomb threats and a bombing also hit parts of Metro Manila the past week, but security officials said they saw no link between the Mindanao attacks and the Metro incidents.
No group has claimed responsibility for the Cotabato explosion. Local police did not say who was responsible, but in Manila, the military quickly blamed ?rogue? members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Archbishop Orlando Quevedo had just read the Sunday gospel and was delivering his homily on the role of priests as peacemakers when the explosion coming from the nearby store set off pandemonium inside the church at about 8:40 a.m.
Among the wounded were students, still in their school uniform, who were the sponsors of the Mass.
?The explosion was so loud as if the cathedral was going to collapse,? said churchgoer Merly Sandoval.
?Everybody was screaming. We saw blood coming out of those lying on the ground near the entrance to the cathedral compound,? Sandoval added.
Another devotee, Isabel Joven, said people ran toward the altar. ?It was like a very loud thunderstorm and the sound reverberated inside the jampacked cathedral,? she said.
Senior Supt. Willie Dangane, city police chief, said the dead included lechon vendor named Ruby Ramirez, 11-year-old Prince Allen Diaz, who was the grandson of a provincial journalist, a soldier identified as Sgt. Recillo Collado and a man named Paulo Kahar.
Police said they failed to get the identity of the fifth fatality, an elderly woman, because Muslim relatives immediately took away her body.
Military authorities in Manila did not mention any soldier as among the dead. The Army said its list included a CAFGU (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) member.
There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the police and military reports.
The wounded included two soldiers and four CAFGU militiamen, according to Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgo.
Armed Forces spokesperson Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said the ?rogue? MILF guerrillas had deliberately targeted soldiers from the 38th Infantry Battalion, who were passing by the area aboard a van.
?We cannot say that this is a religious war. If they deliberately targeted the church, they could have placed it inside,? Brawner said.
The bombing occurred 14 hours after an explosion rocked Barangay Poblacion in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao province, wounding three civilians.
Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said the Cotabato and Datu Piang bombings were connected ?because the bombs had an MILF signature.?
But on its website, the MILF insinuated the military was behind the bombing in Datu Piang as part of an effort to turn the Moro people against each other and lay the blame on the MILF.
Dangane denied reports also attributed to the military that the bomb was remotely detonated by cell phone.
He said investigators recovered not mortar fragments in the explosive device, but traces of ammonium nitrate, cast iron and cut nails.
Mayor Muslimin Sema said two men were being questioned at the headquarters of the military-led Task Force Tugis.
?One of them was seen carrying a bag [which he] left in front of a roadside lechon store,? Sema said.
Witnesses, quoting bystanders, said the man was carrying two bags, one of which he left beside the store. When accosted, he hurriedly walked toward the entrance of the church.
The witnesses said a bystander checked the bag, saw an explosive device and yelled to soldiers nearby about the man heading toward the church. A K-9 dog sat on the bag and the man was arrested.
Agence France-Presse quoted the police as saying that the man was trying to bring another explosive into the church. With reports from Charlie Señase, Edwin O. Fernandez and Nash B. Maulana, Inquirer Mindanao; Christian Esguerra in Manila; Associated Press and Agence France-Presse