By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines
An improvised explosive device exploded outside a municipal gymnasium in the Philippines’ Muslim south where a gathering for peace and unity was held on New Year’s Eve.
There were no casualties from the explosion that occurred around noon Saturday, after hundreds of residents attended the thanksgiving “kanduli” gathering in Sultan Sumagka town in troubled Maguindanao province.
News broadcaster ABS-CBN quoted Sultan Sumagka police chief Razul Pandulo as saying that while the explosive has yet to be forensically examined, it was found to be packed with nails as shrapnel and equipped with a timer.
None of the many armed groups that operate in the southern Mindanao island region have claimed responsibility for the explosion.
The incident came a day after a similar blast, believed to have been perpetrated Friday night by a Daesh-linked militant group, occurred outside a city hall in the island province of Basilan -- a known Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
Lamitan City’s mayor, Roderick Furigay, was quoted by the Philippine Star as saying that the Abu Sayyaf had attempted to intimidate the city, which he said has not been giving in to the group's extortion activities.
On Wednesday night, a bombing took place during festivities in a town in central Leyte province, leaving more than 30 people injured.
Security forces in the Philippines and other across Southeast Asia have been on alert in the past weeks, tightening security for the Christmas and New Year holiday season.
On the evening of New Year’s Eve, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed hope for "renewed determination" to carry out in 2017 his campaign promises -- which include combatting militancy and engaging in a peace process with the country’s one-time largest Moro rebel group and a communist insurgency.
“Let us all welcome 2017 with renewed determination and a reinvigorated spirit so that we can surmount the challenges ahead," he said in his New Year message.
He called on Filipinos to help the government in all its efforts, from its campaign against illegal drugs to attracting investors.
"Many will forget the events of the past year. But we, in government, will remember because it is our solemn duty to evaluate our work and make sure that its gains redound to the common good," Duterte stressed.