THE Philippine National Police (PNP) has placed the entire country under “terror alert level 3” following the foiled bomb attack by the Maute Group near the US Embassy on Roxas Boulevard.
PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa made the announcement Thursday in a news conference in Camp Crame, after presenting two suspects who supposedly planted an improvised explosive near the embassy compound in Manila last Monday.
“We are on alert… we’re now at alert level 3,” de la Rosa told reporters.
The PNP chief said the public should expect “strong checkpoints” and spot inspections under “Oplan Sita” anytime. “And they should expect some raids being conducted by security forces on suspected terrorist personalities and lairs,” he said.
A level 3 terror alert means terrorists have been monitored as plannning an attack, while higher levels are hoisted after an attack has occured.
De la Rosa urged the public to remain calm but vigilant. “I can assure the public, the PNP and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) are doing our very best to secure the safety of the country,” the PNP chief said.
In a statement, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said alert level 3 was “consistent with the declaration of a state of national emergency” by President Rodrigo Duterte after the Davao City night market bombing last September.
Andanar, however, said there would be no change in the way people “live, work, or conduct business.”
Placing the country under alert level 3, he explained, was in accordance with the PNP standard operating
procedures “which put the whole PNP in extreme alert for terrorists who might commit similar acts of planting bombs in Metro Manila.”
“This could mean for the PNP to heighten their mobile checkpoints, increase intelligence activities and law enforcement operations,” he said.
“We assure the public that there will be no disruption in their normal lives even if we have raised our security level, in the same vein that there was no change in the way they live, work, or conduct business now that the country is under [a]state of national emergency on the account of lawless violence,” Andanar added.
Bomb intended for Rizal Park?
De la Rosa told reporters the embassy bomb plot involved a five-man cell with members from the Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines group that is allied with the Maute Group.
The Maute Group took over the town of Butig in Lanao de Sur last week and sought to divert the authorities’ attention by attempting to carry out a bomb attack in Metro Manila, the PNP chief said. They also wanted to get the attention and recognition of the extemist Islamic State, he said.
The bomb near the US Embassy, which was detonated by the police, was meant for Rizal Park, de la Rosa claimed. He did not say, however, if the bomb was intended to disrupt the November 25 protest against the burial of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
De la Rosa identified the suspects arrested in a remote barangay in Bulacan on Wednesday as Rayson Kilala Sakdal, also known as Rashid Kilala, and Jaiher Guinar, both from Marawi City in Lanao del Sur.
Three other suspects, he said, were recalled by their leaders to Lanao de Sur to join the Maute Group in fighting government troops, who retook Butig on Wednesday.
The suspects transported the bomb from Lanao del Sur.
Triggering device didn’t work
Police also obtained the mobile phone that was supposed to be the bomb trigger from Guinar, the PNP chief said.
The terror cell’s original plan was to use a radio handset as a triggering device, but it failed and was replaced by the cellphone, which also failed.
Kilala was bothered by his conscience and decided to place the bomb inside a garbage can near the embassy
instead of Rizal Park, de la Rosa said.
Kilala and Guinar will be charged with illegal possession of firearms because police seized a .45 caliber pistol from them, aside from illegal possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit terrorism under the Human Security Act, the PNP chief said.
Duterte denies martial law being planned
Militant groups promptly questioned the terror alert, claiming it could be a prelude to the declaration of martial law by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We warn Duterte against using the threat of terrorism to repress political dissenters. We urge public vigilance especially since this terror warning comes suspiciously at a time of mounting protests against the Duterte-Marcos alliance,” said Anakbayan chief Vencer Crisostomo.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas asked: “What does Terror Alert Level 3 actually mean?”
“Have they not secured bomb plot suspects already? What constitutes such an alert level and who determines this? The declaration of an alert level leading to increased police visibility and checkpoints creates much restiveness especially as this comes after the President has loosely thrown threats to kill human rights activists and suspend the writ of habeas corpus,” she added.
In Davao City, Duterte denied that martial rule was in the offing.
“`Yung martial law, kalokohan `yan. Nag-martial law tayo noon. Anong nangyari? Gumanda ba ang buhay natin [Martial law is foolish. We had martial law before. What happened? Did our lives improve]?”
“They say I will declare martial law. If I declare martial law, what happens next? I kill the Maute Group and then the religious extremists? And then what?” he said.