Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald de la Rosa confirmed on Monday the existence of a terror threat in Central Visayas but he gave assurances that security forces are prepared to deal with it.
The terror threat prompted the United States Embassy in Manila to warn US citizens against travelling to the region, particularly in Cebu and Bohol.
“Yes we have preparations for that. I was briefed by RD (regional director) 7 (Region 7) that they have monitored such [terror] threat. But there was already a contingency to thwart this,” de la Rosa said in a news briefing in Camp Crame, the national headquarters of the police.
He admitted that he has yet to receive the full details of the terror threat. The police remains on high alert and continues to monitor threats to public safety and security.
De la Rosa warned the public, especially tourists, against taking the routes where the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) usually carries out its kidnapping activities.
These routes are the boundaries of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
“These were the favorite spots of the Abu Sayyaf. You should not go there. All the other parts (are) okay,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte shrugged off the terror warning, saying the government can protect the people.
“Kaya natin (we can handle it),” the President said before departing for the Middle East.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) however said that it has not monitored any threat.
“We respect the travel advisory but as far as the AFP is concerned, we have not seen any threat. Still we encourage everybody to be vigilant and report any suspicious person, object or circumstance so that the AFP can take immediate counter actions,” AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said.
The US embassy had warned that terrorist groups may attempt to carry out kidnappings in Central Visayas, including Cebu and Bohol.
Año said the US embassy has an obligation to warn its citizens.
He added that soldiers will continue their operations against the ASG and other terror groups in the south.
“No break for our troops because this is the time where our troops should be more alert and working hard to keep all of you safe and secured to be able to observe and commemorate the Holy Week. Let us pray for our soldiers’ well being,” the AFP chief said.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman, said the travel advisories by other nations is an inherent function performed by countries to advise their nationals and caution them.
“The US which has a significant number of citizens who travel does this regularly as a precautionary means to protect its citizens. The Philippines does the same in as far as its OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) are concerned and even goes to the extreme of halting their deployments if necessary in order to protect them.
Although our government has not detected any serious threats to tourism in Central Philippines, our security forces are ever vigilant and proactively engaged to deter any threats posed on traveller especially during the long holidays this week,” he explained.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office, said the military had instituted measures and proactive steps to ensure the safety and security of the people.
“Arrests have been made of people with links or possibly connected to local or international terrorist organizations. We have been successful so far in warding off security threats without announcing the meritorious results. We respect the right and mandate of the US government — and that of any other countries’ for that matter,” he added.
Chief Supt. Noli Talino, head of PRO-7, also on Monday said that Central Visayas is generally safe and peaceful but that they do not take threats of kidnapping lightly.
The PRO-7 has jurisdiction over police forces in the provinces of Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor.
Talino said all police forces in the region have been on full alert since the Sinulog festivities in Cebu City and the 2017 Miss Universe swimwear competition held in Lapu-Lapu City in January.
The full alert status continued when Cebu hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit ministerial meetings from April 3 to 7.
Bohol is also set to host some Asean ministerial meetings from April 18 to 22.
Talino said the PNP and the AFP have put in place an integrated security system for the region. Police officials have also coordinated with the owners, managers and security officers of malls, resorts, hotels and other establishments in the region.