DUMAGUETE CITY� Ranking police and military officials in the Visayas on Saturday confirmed that the threat posed by the notorious kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf Group is for real in Negros Oriental and nearby areas like Apo Island, Sumilon Island and Siquijor.
But they assured that security forces and assets were in place to thwart any possible attacks by the Mindanao-based group, following the April 10 incident in Inabanga, Bohol where suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits and a joint team of police and military forces clashed, leaving nine people dead.
Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Central Command (CentCom) in the Visayas and Chief Supt. Noli TaliAo, regional director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office-7 (PRO-7), called on Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo Saturday morning at the Capitol to discuss security measures.
During a confidential briefing attended by members of the Joint Task Group Deter and Joint Task Force Leon Kilat and some mayors, the military disclosed vital information that would aid local officials here in their target-hardening measures.
The briefing included information such as timeline of events that led to the Inabanga encounter, suspected Abu Sayyaf leaders, sample pictures of the jungkong boat the bandits normally use, the route that the group led by Abu Sayyaf leader Muammar Askali, alias Abu Rami, took from Sulu to Inabanga, Bohol, possible and vulnerable target areas, the sighting of another of the group's sub-leader, Alhabisi Misaya recently in the region, and many other essential information.
The group led by Abu Rami, who was one of those killed in the Inabanga encounter, took only more than three days to reach Bohol since it departed Indanan, Sulu on April.
The group had made a quick stop over in Lazi, Siquijor before it went to Bohol.
While the police and military have already thwarted possible terror acts/kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol, PNP and AFP officials were saying that there was a likelihood the other members of the threat group would carry out their terrorist activities in the region, especially during the summer with the influx of tourists coming to the different islands.
In the same briefing, recommendations were made to strengthen and reinforce target-hardening measures to prevent a repeat of the Inabanga, Bohol incident here.
Topping the list of recommendations is the adopt a whole government approach to combat terrorism, which Governor Degamo reiterated to the mayors present in the security briefing and to all the other stakeholders.
The cooperation of the local government units, even down to the barangays, was highly stressed considering that they were the ones who could monitor the arrival and presence of suspicious persons in their communities, Degamo said.
Also, the governor underscored that the public must also do their part by informing the nearest authority, whether it be the police or any barangay official, of sightings of unidentified persons and boats, and of unidentified persons in their barangays.
I am calling, especially the people living in the coastal communities to report doubtful or unusual activity to the authorities immediately, Degamo said.
Degamo appealed that despite the prevailing threat here, there was no reason for the public to panic.And instead of circulating unverified messages, these should instead be coursed through the authorities to avoid causing undue public alarm, the governor said.
He was referring to unverified messages being circulated through text or social media since last week regarding the presence or the sightings of armed men believed to be Abu Sayyaf in Negros Oriental.
By doing so (forwarding false/unverified information), you unknowingly become instruments of the evil desire of some individuals to sow fear in the minds of the peace-loving, innocent people, Degamo said.
Gov. Roel Degamo has reiterated his appeal for close coordination with the civilian populace to thwart possible attacks by threat/terror groups in the province. He also assured the public that if they hear the sound of helicopters flying here, it is routine reconnaissance and there is nothing to be alarmed about.
In fact, the PN a few days back flew its latest aircraft on a recon mission covering Negros and Siquijor Islands.
Meanwhile, for his part, PRO-7 regional director Chief Supt. TaliAo, said the alleged sightings of armed men in Negros Oriental and Siquijor were still subject to confirmation, that was why the cooperation of all stakeholders was necessary.
TaliAo explained that while Negros Oriental is not under his jurisdiction because it belongs to the Negros Island Region PNP Region 18 Office, still, the province is covered by an inter-agency security plan especially in Central Visayas because of the proximity of the islands.
What happened in Bohol was a classic coordination of the civil and military authorities and the community, he stressed.
For his part, CentCom chief Lt. Gen. Lactao lauded the establishment of Joint Task Force Leon Kilat but he had to see for himself how it is actually organized.
Lactao said he was happy to have seen it first-hand how the Task Force Leon Kilat has mapped out its strategic operational plans to counter these terror threats.
Speaking in Filipino, Lactao said that Apo Island, in fact, would have been the more vulnerable target of the Abu Sayyaf, perhaps because of the target-hardening measures employed by the task force, it is a difficult target (and) it becomes more expensive for them.
The CentCom commander and the PRO-7 regional director and party proceeded at noon time to Siquijor, as part of their visits to areas most likely targeted by the Abu Sayyaf.
Lactao said during the briefing that the Secretary of the Department of National Defense had earlier inquired from him about the current state of the Visayas following the Inabanga, Bohol encounter.
Meanwhile, Task Group Deter commander Capt. Jorge Ibarra of the Philippine Navy also disclosed during the briefing that air and sea assets as well as ground troops were in place to secure the more vulnerable areas here.
In fact, a Navy helicopter had done a reconnaissance mission in the south of Negros and in neighboring islands recently.
Continuous seaborne and maritime patrols werebeing done by the Coast Guard and the Navy while ground troops, consisting of police personnel and Army soldiers, were deployed in Apo Island, Dauin, and other possible target areas, he added.
Source: Philippines News Agency