MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Saying there were no specific threats in the country, the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday sought to downplay the latest US travel advisory warning Americans about terrorist threats in the Philippines.
“I am not saying there is no immediate threat. [But] there is no specific report of terrorist threats in the country,” PNP Director General Raul M. Bacalzo said.
“So far our intelligence monitoring has yielded no specific threats,” said Bacalzo, adding that the PNP had already downgraded the state of alertness in the country to “heightened” after the opening of classes, except in Mindanao, which remains on “maximum alert.”
Despite the downgraded alert status, Bacalzo said that the PNP leadership has directed to step up its security measures in different regions.
Bacalzo said the US advisory was just a periodic update that all countries issue with wording that is similar to previous versions of the travel warning.
“Even before these travel advisories came out, the PNP leadership has already directed the different regions to really step up their security measures… [But we found] no specific threat in certain areas or certain group or certain activity,” he told reporters.
The US Department of State, in its June 14 update to the November 2, 2010 advisory, warned of the “risks of terrorist activity in the Philippines, particularly in the Sulu Archipelago and on the island of Mindanao.”
“Terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could occur in other areas, to include Manila. Targeted sites may be public gathering places including, but not limited to, airports, shopping malls, conference centers, and other public venues,” it said.
Bacalzo acknowledged that the PNP was still monitoring certain terrorist organizations, especially the Abu Sayyaf group, as well as the presence of Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists in southern Mindanao.
He added that they were “continuously monitoring the Mindanao area and strengthening our coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).”
Bacalzo stated that they have also been working with the Western Mindanao Command of the AFP in their operations against terrorists and kidnappers in the area.
“These are old reports, and probably the reason the Philippines is put in a bad light. But in fairness to the Filipino people, I think it would be better for the advisories to identify specific areas, say, southern Mindanao,” so that other places would not be affected, he said.
He said there were already initiatives to strengthen police forces in thwarting not only kidnapping cases but also terrorist activities in central Mindanao. In Western Mindanao, he said, the PNP’s cooperation with the Philippine Army in Basilan has been intensified as well.
“If you will notice in the past few months, we have caught or killed some terrorist elements, especially kidnapping elements there,” Bacalzo said.
He said the update to the advisory was likely prompted by the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the installation of its new leader. With a report from Frances Mangosing, INQUIRER.net
Originally posted at 1:39 p.m.