Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Palawan safe from ASG threat, says provincial gov't

From the Philippine News Agency (May 10): Palawan safe from ASG threat, says provincial gov't

The provincial government assured the public on Wednesday that Palawan is safe to visit and is not under any threat from the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy issued a travel advisory telling its citizens to be careful when making their travel plans to Palawan due to perceived threat from the notorious kidnap and terror group.

In a media conference Wednesday morning, lawyer Teodoro Jose Matta, the Palawan Provincial Legal Officer (PLO) and chairman of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC), said the province and this city have been ready with their contingencies in line with the military and the police’s readiness against any threat by the ASG.

Matta represented Governor Jose Alvarez in an inter-agency security group (ISG) meeting at the Western Command (WESCOM) Headquarters in Barangay San Miguel, Puerto Princesa City.

“The readiness of the province is in line with the readiness of WESCOM and the PNP, and ever since the start of the tourist season, we’ve increased our alertness… when summer started, and when tourists came in, and even before then, we already have precautions like patrols; we have alerted Rescue 165, our barangays, especially coastal areas, and organized also the assets of the province,” he said.

According to Matta, Puerto Princesa and Palawan do not want any bad publicity affecting its tourism industry, but reiterated that even before the U.S. Embassy Travel Advisory, both have been ready, and have their own contingencies that are harmonized with the security posture of WESCOM and the city and provincial police offices.

“We have been ready even before this advisory was released. It may or may not have any effect, but Palawan is safe. We have been keeping it safe for such a long time,” Matta stated.

Puerto Princesa Mayor Luis Marcaida III, who admitted the city government got alarmed by the issuance of the travel advisory, said he was only comforted, when upon talking to the military and the police, was told and assured that troops and logistic assets have already been deployed since Tuesday afternoon by the WESCOM in key and vital sites here, specifically in the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) at Sitio Sabang, Barangay Cabayugan.

“Very much alerted because here in Puerto Princesa there are only two industries we are promoting, tourism and agriculture. But tourism is major, that is why last night I immediately called the City Police Office (CPO) and advised them to beef up and to augment the troops in Sabang because of the travel advisory,” Marcaida said, adding an officer from the 3rd Marine Brigade also told him about the prompt reaction it implemented due to the travel advisory.

Marcaida said despite the travel advisory, no cancellations have been recorded by the City Tourism Department (CTD), and operations in the PPUR continue.

“No, there is no operation stoppage in the underground river,” Marcaida stated as a matter of fact.

He disclosed to the media that police visibility has now been increased by the CPO in areas frequented by the public, such as malls, parks, public markets, house of worships, and tourist-frequented sites in Puerto Princesa.

Earlier, the PPUR management issued a statement that says: “We have just received the information about the Travel Advisory issued today by the US Embassy in the Philippines instructing their citizens to exercise caution for a possible terrorist attack in areas within the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. We have already coordinated with the authorities both the AFP and the police, to be in heightened alert. A Security Council Meeting has already been called to take place early tomorrow morning. We are taking this information seriously as we always consider the safety and security of our guests and the community in the paramount of our concern. May the good Lord keep us safe and secure us all in the mantle of his protection. Please pray with us,” the statement said.

WESCOM, for its part, said that there are no members of the terrorist ASG in this city and anywhere in the province of Palawan. It said no way will it allow the bandit group entry to disturb the peace and order situation the residents are enjoying.

“I can tell you eye to eye that based on the intelligence reports, which covers the whole province… we have an intelligence net in the whole province… there is no presence of ASG in Palawan,” said WESCOM commander Lt. General Raul del Rosario in the same media conference called following the ISG meeting with Marcaida and other key representatives of the city and provincial governments.

Asked if they think the ASG can enter Palawan, Marcaida, and the other members in attendance joined Del Rosario in replying with a resounding “No way!”

“I already said this morning before our meeting started that we should never allow terrorism in Palawan because it will destroy all our gains – in tourism, in economy, the reputation as Best Island in the World will be seriously affected. If a kidnapping or bombing is done here, even the masseuse or the tricycle driver will be affected. Do we want that? We should not allow the Dos Palmas incident to happen again in Palawan,” the WESCOM commander said.

Del Rosario added that even before the advisory came, the WESCOM has already “beefed up security of the underground river.”

“We have previously postured security measures in PPUR, and we even gave it a boost just recently,” Del Rosario disclosed, adding there are now two patrol boats by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) securing the area, a Philippine Navy fast craft, boats from the PPUR management, and troops from the Philippine Marines Corps.

“I also ordered the Philippine Air Force here and the Navy helicopter to conduct patrol this morning to see the security posture we implemented there,” he furthered.

Brigadier General Nathaniel Casem, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade and the Joint Task Force Peacock (JTFP) stationed in Palawan supplied too, that they have activated the Joint Task Force Central (JTFC) last Monday which will be responsible in law enforcement in the 3rd District of Palawan that covers Aborlan and Puerto Princesa.

“We have now a dedicated unit to support other law agencies here in the city and also Aborlan to beef up our security posture,” Casem said.

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