AUTHORITIES have ordered tighter security measures amid warnings of terrorist activity in Palawan issued by the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), even as the alerts were downplayed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The US and UK embassies posted a travel advisory on their respective websites Tuesday night, urging their citizens to refrain from visiting Palawan amid the presence of terrorist groups. The embassies cited “credible sources.”
Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, chief of the AFP Western Command, said that based on intelligence information, the threat was “not that big,” adding that the US and UK were only being protective of their citizens.
In April, a number of countries issued travel warnings covering Bohol and Cebu, which were followed by deadly clashes between the military and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Bohol’s Inabanga town.
“There are earlier reports about that…what we did is we heightened our alert. We formed inter-agency task groups because of that,” del Rosario told reporters in Filipino.
The “security posture” in the area was intensified after four anti-terrorism meetings with officials of the resort island of Coron in Palawan, police and the Philippine Coast Guard, he added.
The AFP has also engaged with Muslim leaders, businessmen, security agencies and resort owners in Palawan.
“We are having conversations with all concerned persons, officials and agencies for joint efforts so that the terrorists will not be able to enter the island,” del Rosario said.
‘Enjoy the summer’
PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos said the PNP would be undertaking “stricter security measures” while verifying information on supposed terrorist activity.
“At the end of the day, people [in Palawan]are still living normal lives,” he told a news conference.
He advised the public to be vigilant even outside Palawan.
“Enjoy the summer…we make sure that there are policemen present in the area. Now, with additional information, once verified, we will make the necessary announcement and necessary security measures if and when these information are validated already,” the police spokesman said.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself allayed fears of kidnapping in Palawan.
“We have spruced up the place both physically and with the strength of the security forces,” Duterte told reporters before leaving for Cambodia.
“My order to the security forces is stalk, shoot them on site. Patayin ninyo [Kill them]. Do not waste your bullet [then]we take care of them [in the]hospital. Expend your bullet to finish the problem because it is really a problem. It is a problem of security, law and order,” he added.
Telcos suspend services in Quiapo, surrounding areas
Amid the terror warnings, telecommunication companies Globe Telecom and Smart Communications shut down services at 3 p.m. on Wednesday to comply with a directive from the National Telecommunications Commission.
In separate public advisories, Globe and Smart pleaded for patience and understanding, saying the situation was a matter of national security.
Last week, twin blasts rocked Quiapo, Manila, which claimed two lives and left six people injured.
Police are still conducting post-blast investigations to find the persons involved in the blast, said to have targeted an Islamic leader (see related story).
Malacañang earlier urged the public to be vigilant and not spread “fake news” about the incident.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE, JAIME R. PILAPIL AND KENNETH HARE HERNANDEZ