MANILA - The quest for peace in Mindanao should not be derailed by the twin explosions that left dozens dead and injured in Sulu province, a senator said Sunday.
The blast left at least 20 dead and 81 injured as of 2 p.m., according to the police-military command post.
"Let us not be distracted and defeated by warmongers and violent elements in our midst," Senator Francis Pangilinan said in a statement.
"We have come such a long way in our quest to realize the peace we have long desired for Muslim Mindanao. Let's not allow it to be derailed this time," he added.
Sulu province -- which includes Jolo -- voted against the creation of the Bangsamoro region, which proponents say will bring peace and development after decades of fighting that have killed thousands.
Despite Sulu's vote, legislation provides that the province will still be included in the new political entity as voters from across the current autonomous region voted in favor of it on the whole.
Authorities should "look deeply at the reason why the bombings happened, especially considering the whole island of Mindanao is presently under martial law," Senator Nancy Binay said in a statement.
The incident is "a challenge for the government to show what martial law in Mindanao can do to address these attacks," said Pangilinan.
President Rodrigo Duterte first declared military rule in the south when firefights erupted between state troops and terrorists in Marawi City in May 2017.
The military will "crush" the "godless criminals" behind behind the twin blasts, said Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Defense officials, however, said it was still too early to connect the blasts to the Bangsamoro plebiscite, which is part of the peace deal between the government country's largest Moro rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
With a report from Agence France-Presse