Malacañang on Saturday assured tourists the Philippines remains a safe place despite travel advisories from two countries.
In a statement, incoming Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippine government understood the concerns of Australia and the United Kingdom, and assured them that law enforcers were on top of the situation.
The Australian and British governments, in advisories posted on their respective websites, urged their citizens to be on alert against possible threats around locations that have a low level of protective security, and places known to be possible terrorist targets.
Roque claimed the Australian government’s caution to its citizens on travel to the Philippines was not done in response to any specific security threat.
“We understand the concern of the Australian government cautioning its citizens on the Philippines safety or security risks,” Roque said.
“We verified with Australian officials and that the advisory is not a response to any specific threat. Their general threat assessment has remained the same as it was at the height of the Marawi rebellion, which we all know has already been resolved by our government forces,” he added.
Roque also said the Department of Foreign Affairs was coordinating with embassies, and found that there was no change in the travel advisories of countries that had cautioned their citizens on travel to the Philippines.
“The Philippine government has no information about any increased terror threat in the county and we assure our foreign friends that local authorities have been enforcing tight security measures, especially in populated areas, while we urge everyone to continue being aware of one’s surroundings,” he said.
“We reiterate that generally it is safe to work, study, do business, and travel in the Philippines,” the Palace official added.
The Australian travel advisory came almost two weeks after the Philippine government declared the end of the five-month old Marawi terror crisis, and barely a week before the arrival of world leaders who will participate in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit to be held in Manila from November 12 to 15.
In its latest advisory, Australia said there was a high threat of a terrorist attack in the Philippines, including Manila, thus the need to exercise heightened caution.
“Be alert to possible threats around locations that have a low level of protective security and places known to be possible terrorist targets. The level of our advice has not changed. Exercise a high degree of caution in the Philippines overall,” the travel advisory said.
“Higher levels apply in some parts of the country,” it added.
Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said on Friday that Australia’s warning was only a reiteration of a previous travel advisory issued in May.
“It was reissued in a more succinct manner and may have an update next week following the end of combat operations in Marawi,” he said.
The United Kingdom late last month issued an advisory to its citizens, warning against traveling to Mindanao amid clashes between armed militant groups and state forces.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa said on Saturday Australia was only being “very cautious” of the possibility that terrorists might retaliate following the defeat of the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorist group in Marawi.
“I guess they can’t say that there is really a ‘specific threat’ that the Philippines is facing right now, because they are just being very cautious,” de la Rosa said in a radio interview.
De la Rosa said law enforcement agencies had not detected any brewing threat, but could not discount “lone-wolf” attacks, or acts of terror done by individual persons.
“It’s not happening to the Philippines right now, but it’s possible to have ‘lone wolf’ operators who single-handedly indoctrinate terrorism and perpetrate their own plans,” de la Rosa said.
De la Rosa said international intelligence agencies were helping to monitor possible terrorist threats for the upcoming Asean meetings.
“We are ready and prepared [for the Asean summit]. What we only lack is the shortage of prayers. I hope [terror groups]won’t make it here,” de la Rosa said.
WITH RJ CARBONELL