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Violence to remain a headache for BARMM, says analyst

/ 04:55 AM December 24, 2019

KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato, Philippnes — Sunday night’s grenade attack in Cotabato City indicates that armed violence would remain a problem in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), a security analyst warned on Monday.

Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, also said the attack on the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to the city only showed a message of defiance to his leadership and that of the newly established BARMM.

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“Intentionally targeting troops instead of civilians, the attack also demonstrated the perpetrators’ intention to make the incident an act of rebellion rather than terrorism,” Banlaoi told the Inquirer.

Sunday’s attack injured nine soldiers securing the vicinity of a Catholic church and a religious-owned radio station and several civilians.

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The attack came nine days before the end of martial law, which Duterte imposed on Mindanao on May 23, 2017, after local militants aligned with the Islamic State (IS) jihadi group seized Marawi, an Islamic city that forms part of the BARMM, to establish a province of the Middle East terror group there.

Martial law extension

But the Moro group Suara Bangsamoro expressed apprehension that the attacks in Cotabato City and other parts of Central Mindanao on Sunday night would be used to justify another extension of martial law on the island.

“We hope that this will not be used again to justify another round of martial law extension, the sacrifice of civil and political rights of the people, and call for the passage of a stronger antiterror measure,”Amirah Lidasan, spokesperson for the group, said in a statement.

Malacañang recently announced that Duterte would no longer prolong martial law, which Congress had extended thrice on the President’s request.

Banlaoi said the military victory in Marawi failed to totally defeat the IS ideology in the south.

He warned of more violent attacks that will be carried out by IS-inspired groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which the military blamed for Sunday night’s attack in Cotabato City.

The Archdiocese of Cotabato condemned Sunday’s attack that disrupted the Mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

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Catholic priest Zaldy Robles, the parish priest, said the worshippers scampered to safety after hearing the explosion and the ensuing bursts of gunfire.

“The [worshippers] rushed out of the church toward the convent and the formation center after hearing the explosion and gunfire. They eventually returned and the Mass resumed,” Robles said in a phone interview.

But the next Mass was canceled for security reasons.

The grenade was thrown at the gate of a radio station owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), beside the cathedral in this city, the seat of the Archdiocese of Cotabato.

Cotabato Archbishop Angelito Lampon was not in the city when the attack happened, but was closely monitoring the incident, Robles said.

“It is sad that this kind of violence is happening while we are celebrating the holy Christmas season,” he said.

Officers from elite police Special Action Forces and village watchmen have been deployed to secure the vicinities of the cathedral.

Lockdown

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi placed the city on lockdown after the explosion.

“We can rise above these acts of terrorism. We are resilient and strong enough to fight against these people whose mission is to disrupt our peace,” Sayadi said in a statement.

On Dec. 31 the previous year, a powerful blast also rocked a shopping mall in Cotabato City, killing two people and wounding 34 others. The military also blamed the attack on IS-inspired militants.—With a report from Germelina Lacorte / Inquirer Mindanao

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