MANILA, Philippines – Amid criticism that President Rodrigo Duterte's martial law in Mindanao did not stop the deadly bombing of the Jolo Cathedral, Malacañang said the attack proves military rule is more necessary than ever.
"With more reason martial law should be in place because if you can do that under a martial law regime then the more reason you should maintain it and be strict in the implementation of measures in that area," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Monday, January 28, during a Palace news briefing.
Duterte's spokesman described the Jolo bombing as an "isolated incident," asserting that had it not been for martial law in Mindanao, there would have been "chaos and anarchy" in Sulu long before the attack.
He also said he was told that the President was "angry" and "disappointed" over the bombing. (WATCH: Inside the Jolo Cathedral after the blasts)
"He was disappointed that despite the movement to tread the path towards peace and development there are still certain forces in that region who will sow terror and kill and murder people," said Panelo.
Malacañang's defense of martial law comes a day before the Supreme Court is set to hold oral arguments on martial law extension.
'Too little' bombings
Duterte's spokesman also said it was logical to assume that "lapses" in security had made the Jolo bombing possible. Nevertheless, he described the attack on the cathedral as an "isolated incident" that did not mean martial law is ineffective.
Panelo said the "fact" that there has been only one major bombing in Mindanao over the last year attests to martial law's effectiveness. However, reporters reminded him there had been another blast recently – the New Year's Eve bombing in Cotabato City.
"One or two, that's little considering – That's still to my mind if there was no martial law there, then there would have been chaos and anarchy there," said Panelo.
"Can you imagine how many bombings there would have been without martial law?" he asked reporters.
Less than a month ago, a bomb exploded near South Seas Mall in Cotabato City, killing two persons and injuring 34. The government had also been criticized for the blast, which also occurred in a Mindanao under martial law.
Still, Panelo said, such bombings happen "once in a while" and that no amount of security and preparations can completely prevent attacks by terrorists or other hostile groups. (READ: LIST: Jolo Cathedral bombings, attacks since 2000)
"You cannot certainly stop everything that the enemy will give you. We can only learn from lessons and then introduce more stringent steps to prevent the occurrence of another bombing," said Panelo.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.