Jolo on lockdown after bomb attacks kill 21, injure 97 others

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 28) – Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, was locked down and placed on heightened alert Sunday noon after two bombs went off during a mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, killing at least 21 people and injuring 97 others.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Oscar Albayalde said Monday that he and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana issued the order to restrict movements in the town where additional roadblocks and checkpoints had been set up after the bloody incident.

A PNP statement said the order would "ensure that no similar plans of terrorist groups will be carried out in other regions."

"Usually kapag ganyan makikita natin halos walang tao na nasa labas para macontain itong lugar na 'to. Mayroon mga roadblocks at checkpoints," Albayalde told reporters during an inspection at the scene of the crime.

[Translation:Usually during a lockdown, there are almost no people outside to really contain the area. We have roadblocks and checkpoints.]

The attacks came on the heels of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), establishing a new autonomous region in Mindanao which has been under martial law since May 23, 2017.

Sulu voted against the BOL, but since the province is part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) its votes were counted with the whole region. The province is contesting the constitutionality of the BOL before the Supreme Court.

Albayalde said there were enough uniformed personnel on the ground to enforce the lockdown.

"Yung tropa naman natin dito, kahit na 'yung AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) tsaka PNP, I think sapat naman yung numbers dito. We have enough troops dito, we have two battalions of the Special Action Force here," he said.

[Translation: For our troops here, even the AFP and PNP, I think the numbers are enough. We have enough troops here. We have two batallions of the Special Action Force here.]

Metro Manila Police Chief Guillermo Eleazar also placed the entire force under him on full alert status. He increased the number of checkpoints and policemen assigned in public places such as schools, markets, and churches.

PNP Spokesman Bernard Banac said the heightened alert status was part of the security protocol to remind the public to remain vigilant, especially during the election period.

"Ang atin lamang pinahayag na heightened alert ay standard operating procedure. Hindi dapat tayo making kalmado. Dapat tayo maging doble alert at maging vigilant and besides tayo kasi ay nasa kalagitanaan ng election period kaya ang ating direktiba galing sa Chief PNP na paigtingin ang checkpoint operations ay nagpapatuloy, kaya hindi na iba 'yung magkaroon ng heightened alert," Banac said in a separate media briefing.

[Translation:Our heightened alert is standard operating procedure. We should not be complacent. We should be on double alert and vigilant. Besides, we are in the middle of an election period so the directive from the PNP chief to intensify checkpoint operations will remain. The heightened alert should not be any different.]

The police confirmed that 14 civilians, five soldiers and a member of the Coast Guard were killed in the two blasts in Jolo around 8:28 a.m. on Sunday. One of the homemade bombs exploded inside the Cathedral and the other in the parking lot some 15 seconds later.

The ARMM police said those injured were confined at the Integrated Provincial Hospital Office-Sulu Provincial Hospital, Sulu Sanitarium and Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital.

ISIS behind blast?

Col. Gerry Besana, AFP Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said they believe local terrorist groups are responsible for the crime. He added that they cannot discount the possibility of the involvement of the international terrorist group ISIS in the carnage. ISIS has claimed responsiblity for the attack.

Pope Francis and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines have called for prayers for the victims of the attacks. The Ulama Council of Zamboanga Peninsula, for its part, said the bombing is viewed by Islam as a "heinous crime against humanity."

The Islamic Society of the Philippines released a statement Monday condemning the "dastardly act."

Almarim Centi Tillah, president of the society and former governor of Tawi-Tawi, said they condoled with the people of Jolo.

"Our appeal to Muslim and Christian brothers to close ranks and be one against the forces of evil. And continue not to be divided and instead strengthen the more ecumenism which had prevailed in Jolo all these years if not decades along unity and diversity," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte and other ranking government officials visited the site of Jolo bombings on Monday.

CNN Philippines' Digital Producer Janine Peralta and Multi-platform Writer Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.