BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The threat of the Maute terror group is not likely to spill over to the Visayas from Mindanao, an army official said on Thursday, May 25.
This is because the terrorists have no bases in the Visayas, including Negros Island, stressed Major General Jon Aying, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Capiz.
“These terrorists will not venture to go to Visayas for the purpose of running away. They have no bases, they have no sympathizers here. It’s not good for them to go to unfriendly areas,” he said.
Aying added: “In Mindanao, they have supporters and sympathizers. They are also well-versed of the terrain there. It would be a disadvantage to them if they get out of Mindanao,” Aying said.
He made the assessment in view of fears that terrorists would spread out to the Visayas from Mindanao, which President Rodrigo Duterte had placed under military rule for 60 days starting May 23.
Aying said that the government troopers will continue to do security patrol and collaboration with the local government units and the communities, amid developments in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur.
“We have to strengthen our preventive and deterrent measures. We also have to identify possible vulnerable areas and people,” he added.
Aying also said the declaration of martial law in Mindanao will have a “better impact” on the Visayas. If authorities strictly implement security measures in Mindanao under martial rule, then the problem there would be contained and resolved, he explained.
The President said on Wednesday that he may consider expanding the scope of martial law to the entire country if the terrorist threat persists. (READ: Duterte eyes expanding martial law to whole PH)
Under the 1987 Constitution, the President may "in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it" suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the country under martial law. It also states that martial law lasts for only 60 days, and any extension must be approved by Congress. (READ: Martial Law 101: Things you should know)
In Eastern Visayas, the military and the police are on the highest alert level.
"I don’t want the public to feel unduly alarmed. However, this is a possibility we cannot just ignore, that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this terror attack in Mindanao," said Major General Raul Farnacio, commander of the 8th Infantry Division.
Farnacio told Rappler that the army in Eastern Visayas is prepared for a worst-case scenario.
"We are flexing our resources to increase army presence in key sites, such as transport and other crowded place in Leyte and other parts in Eastern Visayas," he said.
The police in Negros Island Region are also on full alert. Under the full alert status, policemen should be ready for deployment anytime and are not allowed to go on leave, while those who are on leave will be called back to duty.
Senior Superintendent Jack Wanky, officer-in-charge of the Bacolod City Police Office, said they will intensify police visibility and checkpoints in the city.
They will also strengthen their intelligence monitoring operations, he added.
For his part, Senior Superintendent Rodolfo Castil Jr, officer-in-charge of Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, said he directed his men “to prepare for any eventuality.”
Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr urged the public to remain vigilant about a possible spillover to the region, though he believed that the Maute group is unlikely to head to his province as it has no mass base there.
“They will only go to the area where they have sympathizers,” he added, echoing the sentiment of Aying.
He also encouraged the public to report to authorities any suspicious activities and persons.
The governor said he fully supports the martial law declaration in Mindanao which, he believed, "should have been declared...a long time ago" but added that human rights should not be protected.
For Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, tough measures are needed to face this crisis, though he had "misgivings" about the martial rule for the entire Mindanao.
“I have my misgivings about (martial law) covering the whole Mindanao, but then I don’t have any intelligence information,” he added. – With a report from Jazmin Bonifacio / Rappler.com