AFTER ABU-FREE DECLARATION
With the death of the last two remaining Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Bohol on Monday, the provincial government was hopeful that life in the province, especially its tourism industry, will be back “a hundred percent”.
In an interview with Cebu Daily News, Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto thanked the local communities for their help in flushing out the ASG remnants as they fled from the massive military and police pursuit operations.
“Thankful to God, the government troops and most especially to the community in keeping Bohol safe,” said Chatto, adding that the bandits were contained in specific areas because of the community’s help.
The governor also said that despite the skirmishes between the Abu Sayyaf bandits and government forces in recent weeks, Bohol tourism bookings have continued.
“Wala siya naka-create og dakong damage sa lalawigan (It did not create a big damage in the province),” Chatto said.
Bohol, having been recently declared Abu-free, was also seen to help the tourism industry in its recovery efforts following a clash last April between government troops and members of the terrorist group.
Rommel Gonzales, president of the Bohol Association of Hotels, Resorts, and Restaurants (BAHRR), said this would boost the confidence of tourists regarding the safety of the island province.
“Because all Boholanos really care for the tourism industry, they exerted all efforts to make Bohol safe. Everybody from the government side to all citizens of Bohol Republic are one in saying Bohol is safe,” he told CDN in a text message.
Gonzales, manager of The Bellevue Resort on Panglao Island, said the accommodation scene in the province is now picking up, with big foreign groups now starting to book with local establishments.
Days after the clash in Inabanga town last April 11, hotels and resorts noted booking cancellations and a decline in online bookings from foreign guests.
Lourdes Sultan, president of the Bohol Federation of Travel and Tour Operators (BOFETTO), said the declaration gave relief to tourism stakeholders in the province.
“I hope this will reiterate our assurance that Bohol is and has always been safe. Nevertheless, we continue to be vigilant,” she said, adding that tours on the island are going on as usual.
Local tour operators, both in Bohol and the neighboring island province of Cebu, also suffered from booking cancellations then.
Alice Queblatin, president of the Cebu Association of Tour Operation Specialists (CATOS), said the declaration brings closure to the Bohol crisis, although her group already resumed selling Bohol and promoting its packages.
“Even as the Asean meetings had ended, the safe conduct of the meetings and tours for the delegates made a good impression,” she said.
Cebu-based tour operators temporarily suspended Bohol day tour offerings after the clash, but resumed in less than a week.
Queblatin said the cancellations were initial reactions as the next days were a period of anticipation on what immediate security measures will be taken.
She added that assurances from the police, local government, Department of Tourism (DOT), and local tour operators were influential in restoring tourism activity in Bohol.
“For us, things are back to normal,” said Queblatin.
DOT-7, in a statement, expressed complete confidence that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are on top of the national security situation in Bohol.
“We would like to take this opportunity to impart our outmost gratitude to the selfless dedication of our military and police personnel in ensuring Bohol remains safe and peaceful haven to visit,” the agency stated.
Safe and free from ASG
Both the Police Regional Office 7 and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Central Command declared that Central Visayas, and not just Bohol, is now free of terrorist groups.
But security in the region will continue to be tight as police and military officials are not taking any chances.
PRO-7 director Chief Supt. Noli Taliño said that they are considering the possibility that ASG will retaliate following reports that one of those killed on Monday, Abu Asis, was the son of a sultan in Mindanao.
“We just need the cooperation of the community,” Taliño said.
Eleven ASG members arrived in Bohol last April, days before a scheduled weeklong Asean meeting in the province.
The bandits were reportedly about to make a kidnapping foray in Bohol when foiled by government forces on April 11. The government assault initially killed four ASG members while the rest fled to forested areas and hid in caves.
With the deaths of Abu Asis and Abu Ubayda last Monday, the government declared that after more than a month of chase, all 11 ASG members had been accounted for and killed.