North Cotabato grenade attack outside Church on Christmas eve was drug related

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato — The bombing outside the Catholic Church here on Christmas eve that left 17 injured was drug related, police officials told President Rodrigo Duterte during a security briefing.

Supt. Bernard Tayong, Midsayap town police chief, said several witnesses have come forward to provide information about the suspects seen leaving the blast site shortly before the incident.

“It was drug related, we have been receiving threats from supporters of drug syndicates operating in the borders of Maguindanao and North Cotabato,” Tayong told reporters.

Pres. Duterte was also told that the attack was not meant for the Church but for the police, which explains why the explosive was lobbed under the parked police patrol car.

Senior Police Officer Johnny Caballero, team leader of police unit securing the Christmas Eve Mass churchgoers, was among those injured. He was near the police car where the grenade exploded.

Mayor Romeo Arania of Midsayap said if the target was the Church or civilians, the explosive would have been tossed in the Church compound or public markets, bus terminals or town plaza.

“That is the risk facing our law enforcers,” Arania told reporters.

Tayong said the police have been successful in its anti-drug operation the past month that led to the arrest of drug syndicates and drug personalities.

Several big sachets of shabu and a dozen high powered firearms, including mortars and cal. 50 machine guns, were seized during big time police-military operations in the village of Tugal in Midsayap, North Cotabato last month.

The target of anti-drug operation was village chairperson Renz Tukaran, also known as “Commander Renz”, who managed to elude arrest, but not his two followers. He remained at large.

“Commander Renz” vowed to avenge the anti-drug raid that crippled his multi-million illegal drug trade in North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

Pres. Duterte went to Midsayap to visit the blast victims on Christmas Day.

Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol, who hails from North Cotabato, quoted the President as saying “I wanted to comfort and boost the morale” of blast victims.

Piñol was governor of North Cotabato from 1998 to 2007 and Midsayap was close to his heart.

After receiving security briefing, the President emerged from the hospital where a huge crowd chanting “Duterte! Duterte!” greeted him.

Despite advises from his close-in security against doing so, the President still went closer to the people, shook hands with them and posed for “selfies” with the crowd.

The President vowed to bring justice to the victims and extended financial assistance to blast victims.

He left for Davao shortly before 5 p.m. Edwin Fernandez/