MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte visited Monday the families of the soldiers killed in the blasts that hit a Catholic Church in Jolo, Sulu and the clash between government troops and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Patikul, Sulu.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte met with the grieving families at Davao City’s Matina Enclaves and awarded the fallen soldiers with the Order of Lapu-Lapu, Rank of Kalasag, which is awarded to officials and personnel of the government “who lost their lives as a direct result of their participation in an activity pursuant to a campaign or advocacy of the President.”
“He comforted the grieving families and assured them of the government's assistance in terms of housing, livelihood, employment and educational assistance, among others,” Panelo said in a statement.
At least 22 people died after twin blasts hit Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral last Jan. 27. The first bomb went off during a Mass, leaving bodies strewn across the cathedral where pews and windows shattered. A second bomb exploded at the parking area moments later as troops rushed to help the wounded.
The President ordered an all-out war against the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf. The clashes resulted in the deaths of at least five soldiers. The military claims the terrorists suffered bigger casualties.
The Philippine National Police on Monday declared the Jolo cathedral bombing "case closed" after authorities took custody of the man allegedly linked to both the mastermind and the bombers.
The extent of the Islamic State's involvement in the bombing, however, has yet to be determined.
Authorities believe several suspects, particularly the man who authorities refer to as Kammah, hold the answers to the Jolo cathedral bombing. Kammah and four other suspects in the blasts are now under police custody.
Kammah is said to be part of the Ajang-Ajang Group that works with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu.
He is also said to provide the links of the bombing to Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.
According to investigators, the suspects were the ones who picked up the male and female bombers from the pier when they arrived in Jolo.
The military has been tracking Kammah down for days. They raided his house, killing his companion Ommal Usop in the process.
Kammah managed to escape that time, but he eventually surrendered and has been under military custody since Friday.