By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol, Jose Santino S. Bunachita, Nestle L. Semilla November 04,2016 - 10:40 PM
The sandbar of Sumilon Island is a key attraction for tourists drawn to the island resort located just off the southern Cebu town of Oslob.

The sandbar of Sumilon Island is a key attraction for tourists drawn to the island resort located just off the southern Cebu town of Oslob.

Better safe than sorry.

Amid calls by law enforcement authorities for people to stay calm, government officials in Cebu don’t want to take chances and have stepped up security measures in southern Cebu.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said any reports of terrorist threats should be taken seriously since it will have a tremendous impact on Cebu, regardless which part of the island it would affect.

“Anything is possible. We should always be alert. If they (terrorists) can do it in Davao, why can’t they do it here?” he said in a news conference at City Hall yesterday.

Osmeña alluded to the Sept. 2 explosion in a night market in Davao City where at least 14 people were killed and 67 others were wounded.

The mayor expressed concern about the upcoming Sinulog festival and the religious activities in honor of the Sto. Niño de Cebu in January — an annual celebration that gathers hundreds of thousands and even millions of people to the Queen City of the South.

He said any security threats will have an effect on tourism and businesses in the long run.

“Even people from Manila will not come down here if that is the case,” he said.

Osmeña said Cebu might have the same reputation as Mindanao where people fear for their security.

Last Thursday, the United States’ Embassy in Manila advised its citizens to avoid going to southern Cebu to avoid the risk of being kidnapped.

The advisory, titled “Security message for U.S. Citizens: Risk of Kidnapping in Southern Cebu” said terrorists groups are planning to conduct kidnapping in areas frequented by foreigners on the southern portion of Cebu Island, specifically the areas around Dalaguete, Santander and Sumilon Island, located off Oslob town on the mainland.

Being validated

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, reacting to the US travel warning, on Friday assured the public of their security, saying that reports of a planned kidnapping of foreigners in southern Cebu were being validated.

“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,” Abella said in statement.

“The PNP [Philippine National Police] commanders at various levels have taken the necessary steps to . . . protect possible targets. Moreover, other measures are being undertaken in public venues to safeguard crowds from harm,” he added.

Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), repeatedly insisted that they have not so far monitored any terrorist threats in Central Visayas.

“The whole region is peaceful. Operations are normal, and there are no specific threat so far. Nonetheless, what the US Embassy reported is being validated,” he told reporters at Camp Sergio Osmeña yesterday.

To appease the public, Taliño said operatives of PRO-7 along with the Armed Forces’ Central Command, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Philippine Navy have intensified the security measures in places of convergence, especially in southern Cebu.

“I directed our teams to maintain the security augmentation that we used during All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day,” he said.

Taliño said he also directed the police directors of city and provincial offices in Central Visayas to have constant communication with Muslim leaders in their respective areas to help ensure peace and order since there was a possibility that the US advisory stemmed from earlier reports that six members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group were spotted in Cebu.

The report, Taliño said, was false. “There’s really none,” he said.

Heightened alert

Lt. Col. Luzmindo Mamaug Jr., spokesperson of the Armed Forces’ Central Command, said they alerted all units and instructed them to conduct intensified security operations while reported terrorist threats are being validated.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines has received the information about the possible threats of kidnapping and immediately heightened its alert status,” he said in a press statement.

Mamaug said they also mandated their teams to conduct maritime patrols and to intensify security operations while the US Embassy report on the alleged terrorist threats is being validated.

“We call upon the people to be vigilant and closely coordinate with the security forces to deter any threat groups from initiating hostile action that could harm people’s lives,” he said.

Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, also allayed fears of kidnapping in southern Cebu.

He said there was no security threat in Dalaguete, Santander, and Sumilon Island contrary to the US Embassy advisory.

“There’s no report of threat on any nationality there pero ang aming (but our) intelligence units continually gather and validate any information,” Carlos said.

Mayors Marilyn Wenceslao of Santander, Jun Tumulak of Oslob, and Ronald Allan Cesante of Dalaguete immediately dispatched patrol cars around their respective towns after they learned of the US travel advisory.

Be on guard

Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III, on the other hand, urged the public not to panic but to be on guard at all times.

“We are not taking any chances. Since the advisory came from the US Embassy, they should have the basis in saying so,” he said.

He said that he does not know where the embassy got their information.

Davide said that local government units should secure, not only foreign tourists, also the locals.

“(I am) urging local chiefs executives to instruct their police chiefs to be vigilant, to be watchful, to conduct patrol just to check also situations in their respective areas,” he said.

Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, the deputy mayor for police matters, also said that terrorists threats should not be taken lightly.

“Even if the report came from the US, its intelligence network is wider than ours. They have the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency),” he said.

Starting next week, Tumulak is set to begin the security preparations for the Sinulog Festival set on the third week of January.

He said they need to closely coordinate with the police and other law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of all people who will take part in the celebrations.

Abu Sayyaf report

Last October, Central Visayas police revealed having received information about the presence of some members of Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf group in Cebu.

Six members of the bandit group, led by a certain Commander Messiah, reportedly arrived in Cebu last October to “abduct prominent personalities.”

Last Oct. 24, Supt. Julian Entoma, chief of the Regional Intelligence Division, called on the public to be extra cautious after receiving intelligence reports from their counterparts in Zamboanga City that six members of the Abu Sayyaf group were in Cebu.

According to the report that reached Entoma, the terrorists were led by a certain Commander Alhabsi Misaya.

Photographs of Misaya were immediately disseminated to the different police stations in Cebu as well as malls and other business establishments to avert trouble.

But a day after issuing the alert, the PRO-7 cleared the region of the presence of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.

Upon validation, Entoma said they found out that Abu Sayyaf group members never entered Cebu.

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TAGS: Cebu, Oslob, PCG, security, southern Cebu, Sumilon Island

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