By: Ador Vincent Mayol, JOSE SANTINO BUNACHITA June 21,2017 - 11:08 PM

In this Monday, June 12, 2017, file photo, a protester displays a message during a rally near the Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines, to denounce the martial law declaration of President Rodrigo Duterte after Muslim militants laid siege of Marawi City in southern Philippines for three weeks. The protesters also denounced the killings by Duterte’s bloody anti-drug crackdown.
AP Photo


Don’t panic. Stay alert.

While still validating reports that have flooded the social media regarding the rumored June 30 terror attacks in key areas in the country by Islamic militants, the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) assured the public that they have security measures set in place in the region.

“That memo (terror attack report) is subject for validation but then again, it is also our responsibility to our neighbors, our family, to tell them that we should not believe immediately what we see on Facebook,” read the regional police’s official statement released on Wednesday by its spokesperson, Senior Insp. Reslyn Abella.

“Instead of sharing it and disseminating, let the authorities handle so that we can validate it. If it’s true, then it is also our responsibility to the public to inform them through advisories,” Abella said.

Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, PRO-7 director, said he ordered all police stations in the region to secure their facilities so as to avoid any takeover by terrorists or bandit groups, and to intensify their intelligence gathering.

He also advised the public to immediately report any suspicious-looking persons and unusual activities to the police so that proper actions can be taken.

Taliño called on the people to be on guard and not to take any threat lightly.

The ‘confidential report’

In a report circulated online, the Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group was said to have received an information from a reliable source that a joint team from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Maute terror group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) will launch major attacks in key cities in the country on June 30.

The report was supposed to be “confidential” but was circulated on social networking sites.

It said petroleum trucks will be hijacked and will be used as “vehicle bombs.”

The terror attacks are reportedly aimed at churches, shopping malls and other areas of convergence. Foreign terrorists, according to the report, will carry out the suicide attacks which will not spare the mosques.

“Maute special units who graduated last November from explosives training had already been in placed (sic) at their respective targets nationwide to simultaneously execute the attacks during the Friday prayer ‘Jumaah,’” the report read.

Similar so-called “confidential reports” also circulated on social media, supposedly coming from other units in the PNP.

Authorities would not say if the names of police officers that appeared in the “confidential report” were authentic, but they stopped short of calling these reports hoaxes.

Taliño, interviewed by Cebu Daily News yesterday, instead assured that Cebu and the rest of Central Visayas are safe from terrorists.

Authorities also stressed that the attack by a band of BIFF members on a government militia detachment in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato and their taking of five residents as hostages could not be concluded as part of the coordinated attacks supposedly to be staged by Islamic militants.

‘Validate silently’

Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III, who is due to depart for a two-week trip to the Holy Land in Israel, yesterday urged law enforcers and local government leaders to step up their security arrangements to ensure no terrorist can enter the region.

Special attention has been given to all ports — public and private — in the region that could likely be used by terror groups as their entry points to urban centers in Central Visayas, said Davide, who is also the chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC).

Davide requested for additional policemen and soldiers to man the ports in Cebu, and for the port police to strictly inspect vehicles and baggage that arrive in the island instead of just looking at the documents that go with them.

Senior Supt. Jonathan Cabal, head of the Regional Intelligence Division, neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the terror threats.

“When we receive any information, we validate it silently. We don’t want the public to be alarmed. I am not saying that report (terror threat) is true. As I have said, we are validating the information,” he told reporters.

Cabal said he had no idea about the information from the Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group on the planned terror attacks.

“The intelligence units in Central Visayas are professional enough not to disturb the public. We work silently. I am not from the Aviation Security Group, so I would not know if that is true. If it is, I wonder why it leaked,” he said.

“I assure our people in the region that the police and military are working very hard to secure Central Visayas. We are on top of the situation. We just could not take the report lightly,” he added.

Col. Medel Aguilar, assistant chief of the unified staff for civil military operations for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Central Command, said they too are verifying the terror threat report that is being circulated online.

“That has to be verified yet,” he told CDN.

Aguilar said the military continues to coordinate with their counterparts in the PNP to ensure the safety of the public.

He reminded the people to be responsible in spreading reports, especially if they involved matters concerning security.

“To circulate an unverified information is an irresponsible act,” Aguilar said.

Security coordination

The police have meanwhile coordinated with the Cebu Port Authority (CPA) to help stop the possible entry of terrorists in Cebu’s port areas.
Policemen were also separately assigned to secure the Pasil Fish Port in Cebu City.

Chief Insp. Ramocelio Sawan, deputy director for operations of the Cebu City Police Office, believes the port security plays a big role in averting terror attacks.

“It is still possible (that terrorists can come in), but we trust the measures implemented by our partners in the port management,” he said in a separate interview.

He said they also continue to coordinate with the Muslim community in the city to monitor their ranks.

Last May 23, ISIS-affiliated Maute militants took over parts of Marawi City, burned down infrastructures and took a number of persons, including a Catholic priest, hostage. As state forces descended on Marawi to retake the city, thousands of residents were forced to flee to nearby Iligan City and other adjoining towns.

As of yesterday, at least 242 Maute terrorists, 66 government troopers and 26 civilians were killed based on the records of Joint Task Force Marawi.

President Rodrigo Duterte, also on May 23, placed Mindanao under martial law for 60 days. He earlier said he could extend the martial law to the Visayas and Luzon if there was indication that terrorism could spread to other parts of the country.

Yesterday, however, the President said there may no longer be a need to extend martial law.

But even without placing Cebu under martial law, security in air, sea and land points of entry to Cebu has been strict, with random checkpoints being conducted in strategic locations to deter possible terror attacks.

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