– An uptick in terrorist activity may cause Masses and other liturgical celebrations to be suspended in the capital city of Manila, Philippines, the country’s bishop’s conference has announced.
“The church, for practical purposes, will be more than willing to suspend any liturgical activity if there are threats to the safety of churchgoers,” said Father Jerome Secillano of the bishop conference’s public affairs committee, according to reports from UCANews.
On Sunday, a bomb detonated at the gate of a Catholic church in the southern city of Esperanza, injuring two, as churchgoers were leaving Mass for the first Sunday of Advent.
The following day, Philippine police safely detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) found in a trash can meters away from the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The device was discovered early in the morning by a street sweeper, who then contacted the authorities.
Although no one has yet claimed responsibility for the bomb near the embassy, Manila police chief Joel Coronel said that based on initial investigations, the device was similar to an IED that detonated in a crowded marketplace in Davao City in September, killing 14.
The Maute terrorist group, which pledges allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, is accused of perpetrating the September bombing, and authorities suspect the group is also behind the recent bomb threat.
According to the Inquirer, officials suspected the bomb was a diversionary move by the Maute group, as the military continued to launch air and ground attacks against the terrorist group in Lanao del Sur province.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, OMI, Archbishop of Cotabato, condemned Sunday’s church bombing, telling Minda News that it was “pure terrorism, made worse because of the sacredness of the place, the sacredness of the day, and the sacredness of the event that had just taken place.”
Following the most recent bomb threat, the presidential palace asked for “heightened security measures” in Manila.
“To ensure public safety at airports, seaports, bus and mass transport terminals, concerned transport agencies are instructed to increase the visibility and presence of uniformed personnel,” said palace spokesman Martin Andanar.
Andanar also added that the bomb discovery “should not be a cause for alarm,” because police are “on top of the situation and shall beef up security measures in public places.”
Secillano said that the faithful are encouraged to report any suspicious individuals or activities, and that parish priests may request police and military forces to increase their parish security.
The most recent bombing prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a “state of lawless violence” in the Philippines.
Duterte has also previously warned that he may do away with the writ of habeas corpus, a legal protection against arbitrary arrest and illegal detention, in the interest of national security.
However, even amidst the threats, Secillano cautioned the government against getting rid of the protection.
“To go as far as suspending any legal remedy aimed at protecting the rights of our citizens, like the writ of habeas corpus, must be opposed,” Secillano told UCANews.
“What should be of paramount importance is for our government to neutralize these lawless elements and make them pay for terrorizing our people,” he added.
Reports vary, but officials believe anywhere from 19-40 members of the Maute group have been killed thus far in the ongoing military operations in Lanao del Sur province.