ESPERANZA, Sultan Kudarat -- Police have identified two suspects in November 27 bombing of a Catholic Church here and have filed charges against them, the town police chief Wednesday, November 30, said.
The Provincial Government of Sultan Kudarat also offered P300,000 bounty to anyone who can provide information that could bring before the bar of justice the perpetrators, Sultan Kudarat Governor Pax Mangudadatu told reporters.
Mayor Helen Latog of Esperanza also offered an undetermined amount of reward for anyone who can help authorities identify, arrest and prosecute the bombers.
Esperanza town Police Chief Bryan Bernardino said the suspects were police characters who are engaged in illegal drug activities in Esperanza and nearby places.
Cartographic sketches of the suspects are completed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
But Bernardino refused to name the two who remained at large.
“We have witnesses, we have CCTV footages, and our witnesses were certain they were the one responsible,” Bernardino told dxOM-AM Radyo Bida.
He said the witnesses saw the suspects on a motorbike parked in front of Our Lady of Hope Church in Barangay Saliao hours before the blast.
When the police presented to the witnesses a police photo gallery of wanted persons, they quickly said “they were there before the blast.”
Bernardino withheld the names of the witnesses to protect them while police are building up the case against the perpetrators.
Bernardino believed the suspects acted on their own and the attack was not related to government offensives in Lanao del Sur or extortion activities by criminal gangs.
“I think this is related to drugs,” Bernardino said, adding the bomb attack was aimed at getting back at the police who have been going tough against drug suspects.
“Suspects are not from Sultan Kudarat province but they are in our drug watch list,” Bernardino said.
His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, condemned the attack, describing it as “pure terrorism.”
What saddened the prelate was the bombers have targeted a holy and sacred place. It came when the Catholic Church observed the First Sunday of Advent.
Following the incident, additional police force from Sultan Kudarat provincial police office have been deployed in Esperanza, a town in the borders of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.
In a statement, Mangudadatu also condemned the bombing he described as an act of terror aimed at sowing terror among the populace and creating divisions.
He said in a radio interview that the reward money has the concurrence of the Sultan Kudarat provincial board aimed at resolving the crime the soonest possible time.
Injured in the blast were Loraine Erazo, 26, her boyfriend John Reynan Castamayor Escanilan, 30, both of Esperanza but work in Koronadal City and Noylen Guerrero, a teacher, who sustained minor injuries and is already out of the hospital.
Sultan Kudarat Police Director Raul Supiter said all angles are being looked into and the police are carefully considering the involvement of various groups.
“In the meantime, our police are building up the case,” he said.
Supiter also appealed for public support by reporting suspicious persons or objects to police before a crime can take place.
He stressed police hotlines have been posted in public places for the people to communicate with law enforcers. (PNA)