MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday he would not recommend the postponement of a plebiscite for inclusion in the new autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao after deadly bomb attacks in two places of worship in the south.
"We don't see any problem there," he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.
He said the blast sites in Jolo, Sulu and Zamboanga City were far from Lanao Del Norte and North Cotabato, whose voters will decide on Feb. 6 whether or not they want to be part of the Bangsamoro region, said Lorenzana.
Both provinces have not recorded any incidence of plebiscite-linked violence, he noted.
The first plebiscite, held on Jan. 21 in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Cotabato City, led to the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the enabling measure of the 2014 peace pact between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Isabela City voted against joining this region, while Sulu, despite rejecting the measure, will become part of the new Bangsamoro, being within the ARMM. The Sulu governor earlier questioned this law before the Supreme Court.
Two bombs on Sunday ripped through a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, leaving 21 dead and some 100 wounded, just 6 days after majority of voters approved the BOL in a plebiscite.
Past 12 a.m. Wednesday, a grenade lobbed through a mosque in Zamboanga City killed 2 people and wounded 4 others, many of whom were Muslim preachers, police said.
Earlier, police said the Jolo blasts had nothing to do with the recent plebiscite.
The Bangsamoro is the result of negotiations started in the 1990s with the nation's largest rebel group, the MILF, and will give it considerable power over the so-called Bangsamoro region.
The former rebels need to show they will be able to pull the region toward peace in order to attract much-needed investment that will help alleviate poverty and counter extremism, said Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
"MILF needs to prove it can make a difference... the gravity of the problem faced by MILF is wow, so overwhelming," he told Agence France-Presse.
The church attack came despite President Rodrigo Duterte, who visited the cathedral Monday, keeping Mindanao under martial rule since declaring it in May 2017 after terrorists seized Marawi City.
Government officials have argued that martial rule, which gives authorities extra powers, has been effective in taming the restive region. But families of the dead, who began holding funerals on Monday, have become the latest in the Philippines' south to mourn loved ones killed in a bomb attack.
-- With a report from Agence France-Presse