By UCA News
By Joseph Peter Calleja*
(UCA News) — Christians and Muslims have deplored the bomb explosion on a bus that left one passenger dead and 11 injured in the southern Philippines.
The bomb went off inside an air-conditioned bus at a terminal in Sultan Kudarat province of Mindanao region on Nov. 6.
Among the injured nine are Muslims and two Catholics.
A bus passenger narrated the horrific experience in the bomb-hit bus.
“It happened so fast. The explosion was deafening, then I saw blood running down my legs. A piece of metal had pierced my thigh and I saw blood all over the bus,” Catholic passenger Gabby Digay told UCA News.
Digay was supposed to seat near the area where the bomb exploded but was forced to move several seats at the back because of the luggage placed along the bus aisle.
“It could have been me. I was saved but one died, and several others were injured. I asked God why, we were innocent, yet this happened. My family and I are just living a simple life, we are good citizens of this country,” Digay said.
Sultan Kudarat Police Director Col. Christopher Bermudez told reporters on Nov. 6 that the bus was about to reach the terminal when the explosion occurred.
“Someone planted the bomb at the point of origin of the bus in Kidapawan City in Northern Cotabato. Then someone at the terminal [of arrival] in Sultan Kudarat province detonated it using a cellphone,” he said.
No group has claimed responsibility, but authorities believe Islamic extremists who have been active in the region for decades are behind the attack.
Christian and Muslim groups condemned the bombing as the “greatest threat” in the Mindanao region – the poorest region in the Philippines.
“Terrorism is the greatest threat in Mindanao region. This senseless attack should be stopped in the name of God and religion. The innocent should not shed a drop of blood for any political cause. We are one country, one nation,” said the Mindanao for Peace Christian and the Muslims for Peace in a joint statement.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has condoled the family of the victim who died and assured the injured people of material and spiritual support.
“We are aware of the struggles of the people in Mindanao. But please, I am honestly making this appeal, please do not involve the innocent and the civilians,” Bishop Edwin De La Peña of the Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue said in a statement.
Bishop De La Peña cited poverty as the primary reason why Islamic extremist groups continue to recruit in the region.
“Poverty is the reason. Those who want to provide more food on the table, those who want to send their children to school, think that having an independent Islamic state is the solution,” Bishop De La Peña added.
The region (Mindanao), with a population of 24 million, has long had the highest poverty rates in the Philippines despite its natural resources and a promising agricultural sector.
In 2021, the Mindanao region had 26.1 percent of people in extreme poverty, according to the Philippine Information Agency.
“….we were looking at the attack as a response to the military operations against the group called Dawlaf Islamiya or the Islamic state based in Lanao del Sur province here in Mindanao,” Armed Forces Brigadier General Eduardo Gubat told UCA News.
The Dawlaf Islamiya of the Islamic State of Lanao is a radical Islamist group composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerillas and foreign fighters, a group labeled as “terrorist” by former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
In May 2017, the group, together with another Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf, attacked the city of Marawi in the Mindanao region destroying homes and public buildings. The city was held hostage for months before the military flushed the extremists out.
The Battle of Marawi lasted for five months and claimed the lives of more than 300 people.