AS THE United States, Canada and the United Kingdom warned their citizens against traveling to Palawan amid “credible information” that the Abu Sayyaf and other groups were planning to kidnap foreign nationals there, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered security forces to shoot terrorists on sight.
“My order to the security forces is to shoot them on sight; kill them… Expend your bullet to finish the problem; because it is really a problem,” Duterte said before leaving for working visits to Cambodia, Hong Kong and China.
“We have problem with terrorism…What looms very big ahead is the IS, they are coming in,” he added.
An advisory from the US Embassy in Manila on Tuesday warned Americans to “carefully consider” going to Palawan, naming a World Heritage-listed underground river as one area of specific concern.
“The US Embassy has received credible information that terrorist groups may be planning to conduct kidnapping operations targeting foreign nationals in the areas of Palawan,” the advisory said.
The military on Wednesday said in a statement it “shared the same concerns” as the US government, and that it had increased security at Palawan’s tourism sites.
Despite the US travel alert, the Army’s Western Command said Palawan remained safe for locals and foreign nationals.
But Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said his troops in Central Visayas monitored a terror threat in the region.
“I was brief by the regional director in the Police Regional Office-7 that they indeed monitored [a terrorist threat] but we have appropriate action to thwart such threats,” Dela Rosa said.
The US Embassy identified two locations—the capital city of Puerto Princesa and the nearby underground river that attracts thousands of visitors daily—as areas the kidnappers were targeting.
Puerto Princesa is about 400 kilometers northwest of southern islands that are strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf, militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and frequently kidnap foreigners.
The Abu Sayyaf last month attempted a kidnapping raid on Bohol island, a popular tourist destination in the central Philippines, but were foiled after security forces became aware of the plot.
Security forces found the militants a day after they arrived on Bohol on speedboats, and engaged them in a gun battle.
Nine militants, three soldiers and one policeman were killed in the clashes, according to authorities. They said another militant died in police custody.
The Bohol raid occurred days after the US Embassy issued a warning of potential kidnappings there.
The British Embassy on Wednesday advised its citizens to take precautionary measures while in the Philippines.
It advised its citizens to “exercise heightened vigilance” in the areas mentioned in the US Embassy’s advisory.
The Canadian Embassy also updated its travel advisory on the Philippines, with the US Embassy’s advisory.
“If you are traveling to these areas, maintain a high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times, report any suspicious behavior to security forces, follow the instructions of local authorities and ensure that your hotel or resort has adequate security measures in place,” it said.
The Abu Sayyaf has since its founding in the 1990s kidnapped dozens of foreigners and many more locals to extract ransoms.
It typically raids coastal areas after sailing from its southern island strongholds on speedboats, although in recent years it has also attacked cargo and merchant ships.
The militants beheaded two Canadians last year and an elderly German sailor in February after demands for millions of dollars were unmet.
The Abu Sayyaf raided a resort in Puerto Princesa’s Honda Bay in 2001, abducting three Americans and 17 Filipinos.
One of the Americans was beheaded, while one was killed in a military rescue attempt a year later. The third American was freed in the rescue effort.
The Abu Sayyaf has also kidnapped people from Malaysian coastal resorts, which are a short speedboat ride from its southern Philippine bases. With AFP, PNA