COTABATO CITY—The grenade explosion that left a police officer and 11 others injured outside a Catholic church in Midsayap, North Cotabato, on Christmas Eve was meant for the police, a local official said.
Midsayap Mayor Romeo Araña told reporters that the main target of the attack by two men riding a motorcycle were the police officers who were part of the security during the Christmas Eve Mass.
“If it were civilians, the grenade could have been lobbed in populated areas like the plaza or the Church or the market,” Araña said, “But it was thrown under a parked police car.”
Araña quoted Supt. Bernard Tayong, Midsayap town police chief, as saying they have been receiving threats after successful antidrug operations.
“Continue to be vigilant,” Araña told residents. “Be alert and inform the police about suspicious persons or baggages.”
SPO4 Johnny Caballero, 41, team leader of a police unit securing the perimeter of Sto. Nino Parish Church, was near the police car when the fragmentation grenade was thrown rolled under the vehicle. He suffered leg injuries.
Eleven others who were wounded, including an elderly woman, had been rushed to the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center.
Fr. Jay Virador of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a cocelebrant in the Mass, said the blast occurred at 9:45 p.m. some 30 meters from the main entrance of the church where some people were also standing.
Virador said communion was going on when the blast occurred, sending people ducking for cover.
A commotion followed inside the church after the blast when someone yelled about finding a suspicious-looking bag, sending people rushing out of the church.
“The Mass was abruptly ended,” said Virador. “People hurriedly left the church,” he added.
“We are saddened by this,” he said. “We are supposed to be spreading love and peace on Christmas Day.”
Araña condemned the attack, saying it could be in retaliation for the police’s successful antidrug operations.
A village chair escaped an antidrug operation in November, but government forces recovered high powered firearms, including machine guns and assault rifles.
Araña said after that operation, police have been receiving threats through text messages warning of retaliation.
Virador condemned the attack and urged parishioners to remain calm and continue praying amid violence.
Muslims have also condemned the grenade attack. —EDWIN FERNANDEZ AND NASH B. MAULANA