PNP orders cops to 'step up' Palawan security after U.S. warning
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Police in the province of Palawan, including Puerto Princesa City, have been ordered to "step up" security measures, after the United States issued an advisory against travels to the province, a popular tourist destination.
"Police Regional Office Mimaropa in close coordination with other intelligence groups, especially with the Western Command based in Palawan, is continuously conducting intensified intel gathering information and operations to enhance the security posture of the region on any possible terrorist attack," Southwestern Tagalog police said in a statement on Wednesday, May 10.
They explained that this means "more stringent" mobile checkpoints, choke point operations, and police visibility in the entire region.
On Tuesday evening, May 9, the US embassy in Manila, citing credible information, said "terrorist groups may be planning to conduct kidnapping operations targeting foreign nationals in the areas of Palawan Province, Philippines, to include Puerto Princesa City, and the areas surrounding Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park."
In a news conference before he left for Cambodia on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said the government has "have spruced up the place, both physically and the strength of the security forces," when asked about the US advisory.
He said his standing order to security forces is to "shoot on sight" the terrorists.
"My order to the security forces is to shoot them on sight. Patayin ninyo (kill them). Do not waste your bullet tapos (and then) we take care of them. Expend your bullet to finish the problem because it is really a problem. It is a problem of security, law and order. Kapag nag-engkuwentro kayo, patayin mo na (When there is an encounter, kill them)," he said.
Duterte joked in his usual deadpan manner that security forces need not worry about the deaths since there are a lot of Filipinos born every year.
"Marami tayong Pilipino. Next year, madagdagan ito, mga 125 million na tayo (There are a lot of Filipinos. Next year, we will have more, we'll be around 125 million). We can always replenish the supply. Do not worry," he quipped.
'Not that serious'
In interviews prior to the President's statement however, the Philippine National Police said it is still validating the security issue raised in the US advisory, while the military downplayed it as "not that serious."
"Stricter security measures will be undertaken while we are verifying the said information," national police spokesman Dionardo Carlos said in a chance interview also on Wednesday.
"All information, we don't take it for granted. 'Pag nakita naman natin ang validity, 'yung the source and the reliability nung info, 'yun ang ating bina-validate (When we see validity – the source and reliability of the information – we validate) through intelligence fusion meeting with other intel units," he added, when asked if police were taking the warning seriously.
In early April, the US embassy also issued a warning against travel to the provinces of Bohol and Cebu because of "unsubstantiated yet credible information that terrorist groups may attempt to conduct kidnappings in Central Visayas, which includes both Cebu and Bohol provinces."
Days after, police and military began operations against several suspected Abu Sayyaf members who traveled from Sulu to Bohol, allegedly because they planned to kidnap tourists in the area.
The Armed Forces' Western Command (Wescom) said it had stepped up security in the province even before the US embassy's advisory came out.
Wescom chief Lieutenant General Raul del Rosario said they received reports that the Abu Sayyaf Group would be targeting the municipality of Coron, Palawan, after the incident in Bohol province. However, the military was unable to validate any of these reports.
While he acknowledged that the US embassy would not irresponsibly issue a warning, Del Rosario said that on the Philippine end, "nakikita natin na hindi naman ganung kalaki ang threat (we see that the threat is not that serious)." – Rappler.com