COTABATO CITY—Sixteen midnight Mass churchgoers, including a policeman and a three-year-old child, were hurt as a grenade exploded outside a crowded Catholic Church Saturday night at the poblacion in Midsayap, North Cotabato, some three hours before Christmas Day.
Initial reports said two men aboard a motorbike hurled the grenade at a police vehicleparked just outside the church around 9:30 p.m. injuring people hearing mass just outside the crowded church.
Among those taken to the Amado Hospital were SPO4 Johny Calawigan Caballero 43; Ejimar Bargaso loques, 22; Princess Nicole Capundog, 3; Jessa Mae Banlawi 19; Little Joy Costales Singco 33; Jonel Rillo Orquiola, 14; and Kent Steven Robles, 16.
Those brought to the Pesante Hospital were Regor Pedrosa; Ronaldo Soles; Cheyserr Mae Rosete; Jofer Asis; and also Arn- iel and Jennilyn, both surnamed Silvano.
Admitted to other hospitals in Midsayap were Arissen Bagot, 13; and Ronald Duga, 30.
Another victim, Leah Butan, 60, lost a leg in the blast and was being treated at the Cotabato Re- gional and Medical Center here in Cotabato City. Regor Pedrozo was brought to Davao City for further medical treatment.
Offi cials here said the Christ- mas Eve attack in front of a Catholic Church was meant for the police and not for the church. Mayor Romeo Arania of Mid- sayap said investigation showed the explosion was clearly aimed at the police offi cers who were part of the security team for the Christmas Eve mass.
“If it were for civilians, the grenade could have been lobbed in populated areas like the plaza or the Church or the market but it was thrown under a parked police car,” Arania said.
Arania quoted Supt. Bernard Tayong, Midsayap town police chief, as saying they have been receiving threats after successful anti-drug operations.
President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to arrive in Mid- sayap to visit the victims. “Continue to be vigilant, be alert and inform the police about suspicious persons or baggage,” Arania told resi- dents.
Senior Police Offi cer Jhonny Caballero, 41, team leader of a police unit securing the perim- eter of Sto. Nino Parish church, was near the police car when the fragmentation grenade was rolled under the car. He suf- fered leg injuries.
Fr. Jay Virador of the Ob- lates of Mary Immaculate con- demned the attack and urged parishioners to remain calm and continue praying amid the violence.
Arania also condemned the attack, saying the incident could be a retaliatory attack by illegal drug syndicates who would like to get back at the police for successful anti-drug operations.
A barangay chairman es- caped a police-military opera- tion in November but govern- ment forces recovered high powered fi rearms, including cal. 50 machine guns and as- sault rifl es.
Arania said after that opera- tion, the police have been re- ceiving text message warnings of retaliation.