Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bohol incident sends Palawan on ‘heightened security alert’

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 12): Bohol incident sends Palawan on ‘heightened security alert’
The Western Command (WESCOM) and other law enforcement authorities in Palawan are now on “heightened security alert” following Tuesday’s clash in Inabanga town in Bohol between members of the kidnap terrorist group Abu Sayyaf and government troops.

At the same time, WESCOM called on the people of Palawan to “remain vigilant, calm, and immediately report any suspicious-looking individuals to the nearest AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippine) and PNP (Philippine National Police) stations for appropriate action.

“The key to a secure and safe Palawan is the collaborative and synergistic actions of all stakeholders,” said WESCOM commander Lt. General Raul del Rosario to the local press following and interagency law enforcement security meeting early Wednesday morning.

The WESCOM commander said that while they “have been vigilant in doing” their “respective jobs, “it is best” that “all efforts” of the military and other law enforcement agencies “are coordinated” in light of what happened in Bohol.

“We are all here to really get our acts together to prevent terrorism from happening in Palawan. While we have been vigilant in doing our respective jobs, it is best if we coordinate all our efforts. So far, what we have done is analyze the past experiences,” Del Rosario said, telling the local press that they had just briefed themselves regarding the Dos Palmas Island Resort incident in May 2001.

Included in the briefing were the sailing routes which could be “probable targets for the Abu Sayyaf and other kidnap-for-ransom groups,” and a review of the recent clash in Bohol.

“From here, we will draw our security posture in Palawan… based on all the lessons learned, and the things that we noted that the Abu Sayyaf did in Bohol,” he stated.

For WESCOM, Del Rosario said Tuesday’s incident in “Bohol was a success story because government troops were able to stop the plan of the Abu Sayyaf to kidnap their targets.”

Good lessons learned from the episode was the sharing of intelligence reports when there were indications that there were members of the terrorist group in Inabanga; second was the immediate reporting of the sightings by the barangay to the military and other law enforcement authorities; and instantaneous response by those that received the intelligence reports.

“While we speak, we have been dispersing our naval assets. It’s already done; we’ve prepositioned them in key areas… areas that are frequented by tourists considering the season… we have deployed our assets. Our air assets are also on standby,” he said.

Del Rosario stated further that they are coming up with plans on the conduct of joint operations, particularly in susceptible zones, such as seaports, where there could be Abu Sayyaf or kidnap-for-ransom group supporters.

Since resorts, especially those located on remote islands in Palawan are considered vulnerable areas, where kidnappings could be done, Del Rosario said that as early as December last year, they have been coordinating with resort owners and managers, and their security personnel to ensure WESCOM knows their security protocols.

“Last December, there were already reports that kidnappings could be done, and even during that time we already started coordinating with resort and hotel owners’ security personnel to advise to report immediately any suspicious activity or personality, and we exchanged contact numbers or hotline numbers,” he claimed, adding they intend to talk to them again to review the SOPs (standard operating procedures) that were established with them in the past.

If requests for additional security personnel are from WESCOM, he said, an evaluation will have to be done to determine the nature of the problem before a plan is created with other law enforcement agencies.

On standby to provide quick response are naval and coast guard floating assets, special operations units of the Philippine Navy (PN) and troops from the PNP and the Philippine Marines.

Where they are exactly deployed was not given in details by Del Rosario. “They are now in position,” he said.

Lawyer and Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) chair Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, who was also at WESCOM, said that for the provincial government, Governor Jose Alvarez’ direction is “not to have a repeat of the Dos Palmas Island Resort incident.”

“Ever since the peace and order program was spawned, the initial instruction of the governor was not to have a repeat of the Dos Palmas incident. Added to that, since way back, we have intensified our barangay networks. This is through various provincial government agencies not just the peace and order program; mostly, rescue and then of course, livelihood programs, where we have touched based with the barangays. However, this is not full proof. That is why maybe after this meeting, we will reestablish our connections with the crucial barangays, and then maybe, establish a communication network where any stranger, who goes in may be relayed to the various agencies,” he said.

Asked where the crucial areas are in the province, Matta said they are still discussing and they do not want the information out.

“Some of these areas remain under deliberation whether or not we treat them as critical/crucial areas,” Matta stated.

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