Death toll in Jolo blasts lowered to 18

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) — The Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said the bombing of a Catholic church in Jolo, Sulu on Sunday has killed 18 people, lowering the earlier death toll announced by the police.

In its ‪6 pm‬ update, the Westmincom said 18 people—12 civilians and 6 soldiers—were killed in the two explosions that rocked the town's Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Police Regional Office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) earlier put the number of casualties at 20.

Meanwhile, the Westmincom said 82 others—65 civilians and 17 soldiers—were injured following the incident. Among them, were two members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), who sustained wounds and burns. One of them is currently in critical condition and will be moved to Zamboanga City to seek immediate medical treatment, the PCG said.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were set off during a mass, ‪around 8:28 am, Sunday‬. One of the bombs detonated inside the church while the other was in the cathedral's parking lot.

Besana added that most of the casualties were from the Philippine Army's 35th Battalion, tasked to secure Jolo town proper.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana condemned the bombing and ordered troops to secure all public places and "places of worship." He assured the public that the explosion area is already secured and the injured were transported to available medical facilities.

Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Chair Senator Richard Gordon called for all chapters to be on full alert status. Two teams from the Zamboanga City chapter are also on standby to provide emergency assistance, the PRC post on Facebook said.

Meanwhile, Malacañang condemned the attacks and assured the public that the culprits will be severely punished.

"We will pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

The explosion comes after the Commission on Elections announced the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) on Friday, following a plebiscite where all provinces under the ARMM voted for its approval.  Sulu was among the provinces that voted to reject the BOL.

National Security Adviser Jun Esperon noted the timing of the events, however, maintained that the ratification of the BOL will end conflict in Mindanao.

"We have yet to establish if the 2 explosion are related to the all - important BOL. THe BOL ends the secssionist narrative. The BOL signifies the end of war for secession.  It stands for peace in Mindanao," Esperon said.

He added that the attacks will not deter the government's push for peace and order.

"The perpetrators are mass murderers. They are extremist criminals. We will not allow them to spoil the preference of the people for peace," the secretary added.

This is a developing story.

CNN Philippines Digital Producer Janine Peralta contributed to this report.