THE Australian government advised its citizens on Friday to exercise a high-degree of causing when going to the Philippines, citing a high threat of terror attack in various places including Manila.
In a travel advisory dated November 3 posted on the Australian government’s Smart traveler website, travelers were told not to go to Central and Western Mindanao including the Zamboanga Peninsula, and the Sulu Archipelago and southern Sulu Sea area.
“We advise against all travel here due to the very high risk. If you do travel, you should typically seek professional security advice,” the travel advisory stated.
It added that regular travel insurance policies would be void in such instances and that the Australian government would not be able to provided consular assistance.
“There is a high threat of terrorist attack in the Philippines, including Manila. Exercise heightened caution at this time,” the advisory added.
Australians were also told to reconsider travel to eastern Mindanao due to the very high levels of violent crime and the high threat of terrorist attacks and kidnapping.
“Possible targets for terrorist attacks include commercial and public places frequented by foreigners, such as transport hubs, the metro system, hotels, shopping malls, clubs restaurants, bars, schools, markets, places of worship, outdoor recreation events and tourist areas,” it added.
No threat – AFP
In response, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it had not monitored any terror threat within Metro Manila.
Col. Vic Tomas, deputy commander of Joint Task Group NCR, said the AFP had alerted its standby forces in supporting the Philippine National Police (PNP) in security matters, including the preparations for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings this November.
“So far, we have not monitored [any threats]in the NCR. PNP is still the lead role. [The advisory of the Australian embassy is] the global alert warning due to possible lone-wolf attacks like the one that happened in the US,” Tomas told reporters in a text message.
He was referring to the Halloween attack in New York City wherein an Uzbek immigrant killed eight people and injured 11 by ramming them down with a rental truck.
“Though the AFP, through JTF-NCR, we have already alerted standby forces to support the PNP regarding Asean events and on other security matters,” he added.
The Australian embassy’s advisory was issued ahead of the upcoming Asean summit and after Indonesian terrorist Muhammad Ilham Syahputra was arrested in Barangay Loksadatu in Marawi City by authorities.
Syahputra admitted to being part of the Jakarta bombing last January 2016 and the Piagapo encounter last April involving the Maute terrorists led by slain Islamic State leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, one of the founders of the Maute group, were killed in an overnight operation led by the elite forces of the Philippine Army’s Scout Rangers and Light Reaction Commands in October, ending a five-month siege.
Syahputra is detained at the PNP general headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City and rebellion charges were filed against him by authorities before the Department of Justice.
‘Stronger response needed’
The Philippines on Friday called for stronger international efforts against terrorism, saying that the recent terror attacks in New York and other places abroad underscored the gravity of the threat.
While there have been victories against the Islamic State in Mosul, Raqqa and in Marawi City, the group still poses a serious threat to the world, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.
“The defeat suffered by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, Syria, and the Philippines does not mean the fight is over,” Cayetano said.
Manila, he said, was looking forward to cooperating with other countries, particularly in intelligence sharing and capacity-building as part of counterterrorism efforts.
Asean defense ministers vowed in October to work more closely against terrorism and acknowledged the need for enhanced regional cooperation.
During the Asean defense ministers meeting held in Clark, Pampanga, defense ministers pushed for greater intelligence and information sharing; increased surveillance; and promotion of awareness among the public about the threat of radicalism.
Cayetano said fighting terrorism was a priority of President Rodrigo Duterte and would be among the issues discussed in the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and Related Meetings to be held in Manila this month.
At least 21 world leaders are expected to arrive in Manila for the Asean meetings.
Cayetano strongly condemned the terror attack in Manhattan on.
“The terrorist attacks in New York and other places abroad during the past several weeks tell us the threat remains real,” Cayetano said as he called on the international community to intensify efforts in going after the IS and its affiliate organizations around the world.
with JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA