5 dead, 35 hurt by explosion outside Philippine church (Roundup)
Jul 5, 2009, 8:45 GMT
Cotabato City, Philippines - Five people were killed and 35 wounded when a homemade bomb exploded outside a Catholic cathedral in a southern Philippine city on Sunday, officials said.
The blast occurred as churchgoers packed the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in Cotabato City, 960 kilometres south of Manila, for morning Mass.
Police Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane said Archbishop Orlando Quevedo had just finished reading the gospel and was about to start his homily when the loud explosion happened.
Cotabato City Mayor Muslimem Sema said two soldiers, a boy, an elderly woman and a mentally ill man were killed.
'The explosion was so loud, it was as if the cathedral was going to collapse,' churchgoer Merly Sandoval said. 'People were running toward the altar after the blast.'
'Everybody was screaming,' she added. 'We saw blood from those lying on the ground near the entrance of the cathedral compound.'
Sema was furious over the bombing and called on residents to help authorities in uncovering 'the people behind this evil scheme that wish us divided.'
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo condemned the bombing and ordered security forces to 'arrest those responsible ASAP and ensure security of residents in the area,' her spokesman Cerge Remonde said.
Remonde said Arroyo also ordered the social welfare department to assist the victims.
Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a regional army spokesman, said rogue members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were suspected to be behind the bombing.
'The rebels are getting desperate and they are no longer choosing their targets,' he said. 'They are now attacking even places of worship.'
The military has been fighting with MILF members since August 2008 when the guerrillas launched a series of attacks to protest a snag in peace talks with the government.
The hostilities have killed more than 300 people killed displaced more than 500,000 at the height of the fighting.