The Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines in Negros Oriental have assured that the province, especially some municipalities and cities and the world-renowned Apo Island dive destination, are safe from any terror threat from the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf Group.
The assurance comes following a security warning released by the United States Embassy in Manila Thursday, on the risk of kidnapping by terror groups particularly in southern Cebu.
The US Embassy specifically mentioned “the areas around Dalaguete and Santander (to include Sumilon Island),” which are located on the side of Cebu island facing Negros Oriental, telling their nationals to “avoid travelling to these areas”.
It also warned American nationals on taking necessary precautionary measures, considering that “there is an ongoing threat of terrorist actions and violence against United States citizens and interests abroad, including the Philippines”.
But the PNP in Central Visayas, the PRO-7 headed by its regional director, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, immediately countered this by saying that “Central Visayas is safe and secured to live, work and do business (in).”
While the US Embassy’s warning did not mention Negros Oriental, local law enforcement agencies are also taking the necessary measures to prevent any untoward incident.
The areas in southern Cebu mentioned by the US Embassy are just a stone’s throw away from Negros Oriental, thus, there is also the risk that the terror groups might carry out their activities here, Senior Supt. Henry Biñas, the acting police provincial director of Negros Oriental, said.
He stressed that “we cannot discount that possibility, especially with previous intelligence reports, though unvalidated, that had mentioned Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental, specifically Apo Island, as a potential target for kidnapping of foreign tourists.”
He assured that the government’s security agencies and assets have been alerted on this most recent intelligence report and all necessary steps are taken to secure Apo Island and other potential risk areas, like Dumaguete, Sibulan, Bacong, Dauin and Zamboanguita towns.
He said he has ordered the police chiefs of these areas to step up security and impose safety nets such as monitoring the arrival of suspicious persons.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard in Dumaguete City is also actively taking security measures at the Dumaguete port as well as in other ports following the recently reported security threat.
Coast Guard Dumaguete commander, Lt. Junior Grade Donna Liza Duran Ramacho, said she has deployed three K-9 teams to the ports of Dumaguete, Sibulan and Amlan.
Two of these dogs are trained on bomb sniffing while another one is trained to sniff and track down narcotics substances, she said.
Mobile, foot and random maritime patrols have been increased by the local Coast Guard personnel, especially at tourist spots, specifically in Larena, Siquijor, which is part of their jurisdiction, and Apo Island, Ramacho added.
The Coast Guard also has a special operations unit manning their floating assets, which can be deployed any time when necessary.
Also, two Navy patrol boats have been deployed to Negros Oriental to assist in maritime operations, Ramacho added.
Lt. Col. Roderick Garcia, 79th Infantry Battalion commander, said they are also getting involved in securing Apo Island and Negros Oriental from the latest security threat.
Apo Island has police, Army and Coast Guard personnel deployed there round-the-clock.
The police and military are continuously coordinating even as the PRO-7 chief has disclosed that at present, “there is no direct threat sighted or monitored threat groups in the region”.
Law enforcement authorities are appealing to the public to help monitor the presence of suspicious-looking persons and report them immediately to the nearest police station.
Meanwhile, Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Lloyd Dino yesterday said southern Cebu remains safe for travelers, despite the US Embassy travel advisory.
He also asked the US government to substantiate its travel advisory that discouraged its nationals from going to south Cebu to avoid “confusion” among local and foreign visitors.
Dino said he has been in close coordination with officials of PRO 7. “The police have assured me that they do not have any verified reports about the alleged threats,” he said in a statement.
Dino said the towns mentioned in the US travel advisory remained “generally peaceful, and that there had not been any incident of kidnapping or violence involving foreigners in those areas.”
“The areas stated in the travel warning are secured and safe. The situation is normal and the tourists continue to enjoy the sights and the beautiful destinations undisturbed,” Dino said.*JFP/PNA