Naval blockade up in Visayan waters

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – To ensure that the threat of the Maute terror group will not reach the Visayas, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Navy have stepped up their security measures on vessels coming from Mindanao.

Lieutenant Senior Grade Jimmy Oliver Vingno, the PCG head here, said the Coast Guard and the Navy have set up a naval blockade to monitor the entry of any vessels in Visayan waters, after President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.

“They are conducting sea-borne patrol and intensifying their surveillance on any sea vessels, especially speedboats,” he added.

Duterte earlier said he may expand the scope of martial law to include the Visayas, and even the rest of the country, if terror groups establish a "foothold" there.

Vingno stressed it would be difficult for the Maute terrorists to ply Visayan waters, especially via speedboat, considering the vast perimeter and bad weather condition. Considering these, the terror group's only means to reach the Visayas is through a larger sea vessel, he said.

Vingno said the PCG is keeping a close watch over this.

The Visayas is composed of the islands of Negros, Panay, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar.

Vingno said the PCG has been on heightened alert following the clashes between the Maute Group and the military in Marawi City, which prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao for 60 days – the maximum period set by the 1987 Constitution unless extended upon the approval of Congress.

Vingno also said the PCG is intensifying its security inspections on sea vessels docking in Negros Occidental, including its capital, Bacolod City, especially vessels from Mindanao.

“We are checking everything, including the personnel and contraband,” he added.

He said they have a directive from the national command to strengthen their security measures and to prepare for any “diversionary tactic” of the Mindanao-based group.

Vingno added that they are in close coordination with the army and the police for intelligence monitoring operations.

Earlier, Major General Jon Aying, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Capiz, said that the threat of the Maute Group is not likely to reach the Visayas as they have “no bases and no sympathizers” in that region. (READ: Maute Group spillover to Visayas unlikely – army official)

He added that it would be a disadvantage for the group to go to "unfriendly" areas. –