Christmas Eve blast near Philippine church injures 13
Rescuers carry a body bag after an explosion at a market in Davao City, Philippines September 3, 2016. Reuters

At least 16 people, including a police officer, were injured in a blast outside a Catholic church in the southern Philippines late on Saturday. Last year, as many as 15 people were killed in Christmas day attacks by Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines.

Jay Virador, a priest who was present at the service, said the explosion hit the churchgoers, who were attending a series of Christmas Eve masses at the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santo Nino in the farming town of Midsayap.

"The communion was ongoing when the explosion took place," he told AFP. The priest added that the explosion took place about 30 metres away from the entrance of the church and caused panic. No group has claimed the responsibility of the blast yet.

Superintendent Romeo Galgo, the regional police spokesman, confirmed the blast and said it was caused by an unspecified explosive device. Police said all the injured people, including a police officer and an unidentified person, were being treated at nearby hospitals.

A police investigator, who requested not to be named, said it is believed that initially the suspects had targeted the church. But, later they planned to fix the device in a patrol car, which was assigned to guard the building.

"It seems they wanted to get closer but due to heavy security they opted to throw the explosive at the police car blocking the road," the officer said. The police said the explosion damaged the police car and a pickup truck that was parked nearby.

Midsayap is located in the middle of the large Philippine island of Mindanao, at a distance of about 900 kilometres to the south of Manila. The territory is a stronghold of Muslim rebels and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

In September, 14 people died and almost 70 were wounded after an improvised bomb exploded in a crowded market in Davao City, hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte. The police arrested nine people, who were linked to an Islamic State militant-affiliated group for the attack.