Cry out to the heavens
It was Wednesday evening, and the midweek service at the Pikit, North Cotabato church of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines was about to end. But the thanksgiving that usually brings the service to a proper close got cut short, lost in loud and sudden chaos. A rifle-shot grenade had exploded inside the church, killing two church members and wounding three others. It was about 7:35 p.m.
The unfortunate dead—Felomina Ferolin, a hospital head nurse, and Gina Cabilona, a teacher—were seated near the back, where the grenade landed. The three other victims also sustained shrapnel injuries: Virginia Manolid, a teacher; Jeremias Dandan, a businessman; and Jerome Dandan, an engineer.
The pastor, Jerry Sanchez, said he didn’t know why his church was attacked. “We have no idea why this thing happened. We condemn this act.” The police chief, Senior Insp. Mautin Pangandigan, was just as puzzled. “We are still unsure of the motive, we are still investigating.”
There is still no firm lead as of press time, but there can be no doubt about the proper public response to the brutal act: We must condemn it in the strongest terms, while standing in solidarity with the UCCP. Yesterday, leaders and members from other UCCP churches joined Sunday services at the damaged church. An official statement released on Saturday explained: “The UCCP condemns the dastardly act of bombing the UCCP Pikit worship service; and yet, we journey to Pikit with a most important intention to comfort the bereaved and join as a presence of solidarity and support to our church members.”
We must all condemn this cowardly attack. The freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution—which provides, in particular, that “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed”—assumes that religious space is holy or sacred space. This applies as much to a Protestant church as to a Catholic cathedral, to an Islamic mosque as to a
Buddhist temple. The very concept of sanctuary, a place of refuge or privilege, arises from the meaning of holy.
The attack, then, was an assault on the idea of sanctuary. A place that should have been a special zone of protection, safe from conflict, was turned into a war zone. Whoever planned and carried out the attack were devious men of evil intent, who do not understand true religion.
But we must all condemn this evil also because it can lead to similar attacks on mosques or other churches; in other words, it was an attack on all holy or sacred spaces. While the motive for the attack in Pikit is still not clear, it is clear that the premeditated act has made an already unsettled situation in certain parts of Mindanao, and those directly involved in the creation of a new Bangsamoro political area, even more unsettled.
The UCCP general secretary, Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, did right when he used his statement immediately after the attack to remind us of the dangers of escalation. “We ask our members to remain sober-minded yet vigilant. Even as we press for justice, let us not do anything that will further escalate the violence.”
That same statement referred to the possibility that “two men riding in tandem on a motorcycle fired an M203 grenade” into the Pikit church. This possibility was not mentioned by the police; we trust that government authorities are looking at all possible angles, to determine who carried out the attacks. The sooner we know, the less the chance of an escalation in retaliatory violence.
At this point, perhaps it is best that this tragic matter be considered a police case, that is, a crime, rather than an act of terrorism, which would militarize the issue. But however it is treated, we need government authorities to assign the highest priority to this case.
If the motive behind the attack was to stir trouble for the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the proposed Bangsamoro, or if the motive were anything else, then speedy identification of the perpetrators would add clarity to a potentially confusing situation. The attack last Wednesday in Pikit was a crime, an injustice, that cries out to the heavens.
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