CEBU, Philippines (UPDATED) – The US Embassy in Manila on Thursday, November 3, issued a security advisory to its citizens on traveling to southern Cebu.
"The US embassy alerts US citizens that terrorist groups are planning to conduct kidnappings in areas frequented by foreigners on southern portions of Cebu island," the alert read.
The alert comes after a chain message was passed around by Cebu residents on October 31. "If you know anyone in Cebu, tell them not to go to Sumilon Island, because that is where the Abu Sayyaf plans to do a kidnapping," the text message said in Bisaya.
On Friday morning, November 4, Malacañang confirmed the report of a kidnapping threat in southern Cebu but said it was still being validated by police.
"There was indeed a police report regarding a plan to stage a kidnapping in southern Cebu. The report is in the process of being validated," said Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
"The PNP commanders at various levels have taken the necessary steps to harden or protect possible targets. Moreover, other measures are being undertaken in public venues to safeguard crowds from harm," Abella added.
Southern Cebu is home to several popular tourist attractions including Badian, Sumilon Island, Oslob and Moalboal.
More police in tourist spots
Central Visayas police had previously reported that Abu Sayyaf members were in the province, but later said that it was a "false alarm," even as it confirmed that more policemen had been deployed to tourist areas in the region.
Superintendent Julian Entoma told reporters, "Upon validation, we found out that they are not here. A verification we conducted yielded negative results."
Philippine National Police (PNP) regional officials urged the public to "remain calm" following the US security alert.
"The Police Regional Office 7 (PRO-7) advises the public, especially foreigners, to remain calm despite the statement of the United States Embassy alerting their citizens in the country on reported presence of terrorist groups in southern Cebu," PRO-7 said in a statement.
"The regional police office made the assurance that Central Visayas is safe and secure to live, work, and do business. All areas in the region frequented by foreigners are augmented with additional PNP personal to implement the tightened security coverage," it added.
At the moment, PRO-7 said that "there is no direct threat sighted or monitored" in the region.
In response to the US advisory, Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said in a statement that while the Cebu Provincial Government "cannot confirm nor deny the veracity of the travel alert issued by the US Embassy," it is best for locals and tourists alike to take the necessary precautions.
"True or not, we call on Sugboanons (Cebuanos) and tourists to be vigilant, keep necessary contact numbers of nearest police stations in your area, and avoid travel unless necessary," Davide said.