Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte paid a visit to the victims of an explosion in front of a Catholic Church in Midsayap, North Cotabato to assure them that justice will be served.
The president arrived at Aniceto Pesante Memorial Hospital at around 4 p.m. on Christmas Day to talk briefly with the victims, Inquirer reported. Cheyserr Rosete, 28, who sustained a leg injury, revealed that Duterte gave her an undetermined amount of cash and promised to shoulder all their medical expenses.
At least 17 people, including a police officer, were injured in the blast that occurred at around 9:30 p.m. while a Christmas eve mass was being held inside the Sto. Nino Archdiocesan Shrine. Two men riding a motorcycle reportedly tossed a hand grenade under a parked police car along Roosevelt Street.
Midsayap Mayor Romeo Arania believed that the attack was not directed at the church but to the police. Supt. Bernard Tayong, the town’s police chief, said that the attack could be a retaliation against the police for the ongoing anti-drug operations.
Police Superintendent Romeo Galgo Jr. said that the concluding prayers were cut short because of the commotion. An unnamed investigator told the Agence France-Presse that the church was the intended target, but the attackers were not able to get near it due to heavy security.
“It seems they wanted to get closer, but due to heavy security, they opted to throw the explosive at the police car blocking the road,” said the officer.
The government said in a press release that the total number of injured was 18. Three of them were admitted to the Aniceto Pesante Memorial Hospital, and two were treated at the Cotabato Regional Medical Center. Another victim is at the Southern Philippines Medical Center, while the 12 others were outpatients.
The Midsayap local government denounced the attack as an “act of cowardice” and vowed to deliver justice to the perpetrators.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast. Security forces across Southeast Asia are on high alert during the holidays following the arrest of suspected militants in Malaysia and the foiled bomb plots in Australia and Indonesia.