CEBU, CV ON ALERT
Be ready for the inconvenience.
While there are no terror threats to Cebu and other parts of Central Visayas, security blockades have been put up in strategic places in the region to prevent or suppress any attempt to sow terror by any group.
Police will flag down vehicles — whether private or public — at random for inspection.
Special attention will be given to motorcycles and heavily tinted vehicles since these are usually used to carry out crimes, said Senior Supt. Joel Doria, director of the Cebu City Police Office.
“Our policemen randomly select vehicles for inspection. We just could not stop all vehicles as it will cause heavy traffic,” Doria told Cebu Daily News on Thursday.
But he assured that the police would be polite in asking drivers to open the baggage compartments of their vehicles and roll down their windows for inspection.
All inspections, Doria said, are done in “plain view” unless the police have prior knowledge that the person being inspected has been involved in illegal activity.
“We cannot frisk a person nor force him or her to open their vehicles. All we can do is to politely request them to cooperate. If they refuse, then they must be hiding something,” he said.
Although not all vehicles are inspected, Doria said checkpoints are found to be effective methods of preventing crimes.
“Criminals obviously try to avoid checkpoints as much as possible. If they know that random checkpoints are being set up, they think twice about carrying out their evil plans,” he said.
The tighter security stemmed from the ongoing siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, that started on Tuesday afternoon after the government forces conducted a raid on the safehouse of Isnilon Hapilon, a top leader of the Abu Sayyaf based in Basilan who is said to be also a leader of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.
The terrorists torched facilities, took over parts of the city and took as hostages a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers as the gun battle erupted.
According to the military, at least 26 members of the Maute Group and eight soldiers were killed in the gun battle while 31 soldiers were wounded as of Thursday.
The crisis in Marawi prompted President Duterte to put the entire Mindanao under martial law for at least 60 days.
He also raised the possibility of extending the declaration to the Visayas, which he described as “walking distance” from Mindanao, as well as to Luzon to stop terrorists from sowing violence in other parts of the country.
Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), said they were ready to implement the martial law if ordered by the President.
“We will support whatever order of the President in maintaining peace and order. Terrorism has no place in our society,” he said in a phone interview.
But both the police and the military admitted that the Visayas had not received any threat from terrorist groups.
“We just have to continue conducting random checkpoints in strategic places. If the martial law is extended to the Visayas, then we can sit down and talk. For now, I don’t want to elaborate,” he said.
Col. Medel Aguilar of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command advised Cebuanos not to be afraid since authorities are on alert and in control.
“There’s nothing to worry. I can assure you that there is no credible threat to the security of the Visayas. But of course, we have to be vigilant. Even without any threat, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are in on full alert,” he said in a separate interview. Aguilar believed terrorists would have a hard time entering the Visayas region due to intensified security measures that were being implemented.
“There is no way terrorists will triumph in this particular area. What happened to the Abu Sayyaf members in Bohol is a message that they just can’t go to other places.”
“Yes, Abu Sayyaf members were able to enter Bohol, but they paid the price for doing so. Crime does not pay after all,” he said. “We have very responsible chief executives.”
“And with the cooperation from the community, right now, we are in good hands. We will make sure that we will do everything to have peace in our area of responsibility,” he added.
At least 10 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group were killed in separate operations in different areas of Bohol that lasted for more than a month since they tried to set a base in Inabanga town on April 10.
While he supports the implementation of martial law in Mindanao, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III said extending it to Visayas and Luzon is not appropriate at the moment.
“Before declaring martial law, a thorough study must be made. I don’t think the President will just do something out of the blue. There has to be sufficient and factual basis in declaring martial law,” he said on Thursday.
Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale said she was confident that the President was on top of the situation and knew better than the rest of the Filipinos.
“I doubt if martial law will be extended here, but I believe that has been deliberated well. They know best what is happening now,” she said.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said President Duterte should consult government officials in the Visayas before making a decision to expand the martial law.
“I gave the President the benefit of the doubt for doing it in Mindanao but doing it here in Visayas, I hope he will consult the local officials here which he did not do in Mindanao,” he said.
As of the moment, the mayor said it would be difficult for terrorist groups to penetrate the city due to lack of public support and a strong collaboration between the city and the Muslim community.
“I would like to assure the Cebuanos that community here is our biggest safeguard. That is why we have had no problems here in Cebu,” he said.
On the other hand, the mayor said he is in favor of allowing policemen and licensed gun owners to carry their firearms inside malls to help in the fight against terrorism.
Malls are potential target for terrorist attacks, he said.
Once everything is ironed out, an ordinance will be proposed to the council.
“Because our mall is a public place. I cannot accept the idea that policemen will have to leave their guns in the security guard. I find it ridiculous. I don’t even think it is legal,” he said. /With April Alexis Agustin (Xavier University Intern), Shaira Marie Rama (CNU Intern)
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