PNP, AFP: Negros Oriental safe amid US Embassy warning vs terror threat

DUMAGUETE CITY –- The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Negros Oriental have assured that the province, especially some of its municipalities and cities and the world-renowned dive destination Apo Island, are safe from any terror threats from the kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf.

The assurance came following a security warning released by the United States Embassy Manila on November 3 on the risk of kidnapping by terror groups particularly in southern Cebu.

The US Embassy specifically mentioned “the areas around Dalaguete and Santander (to include Sumilon Island), which are located on the side of Cebu Island facing Negros Oriental, telling its nationals to “avoid travelling to these areas”.

It also advised Americans to take necessary precautionary measures, considering that “there is an ongoing threat of terrorist actions and violence against United States citizens and interests abroad, including the Philippines”.

But the Police Regional Office-Region 7 (PRO-7) headed by its regional director, Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, immediately countered this by saying that “Central Visayas is safe and secured to live, work and do business (in)”.

While the US Embassy’s warning did not mention Negros Oriental, law enforcement agencies here are also taking the necessary measures to prevent any untoward incident.

The areas in southern Cebu mentioned by the US Embassy are just a stone’s throw away from Negros Oriental, thus, there is also the risk that the terror groups might carry out their activities here, according to Sr. Supt. Henry Biñas, the Acting PNP provincial director of Negros Oriental.

Sr. Supt. Biñas stressed that “we cannot discount that possibility, especially with previous intelligence reports, though unvalidated, that had mentioned Dumaguete City and Negros Oriental, specifically Apo Island, as a potential target for kidnapping of foreign tourists.

Biñas assured that the government’s security agencies and assets have been alerted on this most recent intelligence report and all necessary steps are taken to secure Apo Island and other potential risk areas like Dumaguete, Sibulan, Bacong, Dauin and Zamboanguita towns.

He disclosed that he has ordered the police chiefs of these areas to step up security and impose safety nets such as monitoring the arrival of suspicious persons.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard in Dumaguete City is also actively taking security measures at the Dumaguete port as well as in other ports following the recently reported security threat.

Coast Guard Dumaguete commander, Lt. Junior Grade Donna Liza Duran Ramacho, disclosed that she has deployed three K-9 teams to the ports of Dumaguete, Sibulan and Amlan.

Two of these dogs are trained on bomb sniffing while another one is trained to sniff and track down narcotics substances, she said.

Mobile, foot and random maritime patrols have been increased by the local Coast Guard personnel, especially at tourist spots, specifically in Larena, Siquijor (which is part of their jurisdiction) and Apo Island, Ramacho further disclosed.

The Coast Guard here also has a Special Operations Unit manning their floating assets, which can be deployed any time when necessary.

Also, two Philippine Navy patrol boats have been deployed to Negros Oriental to assist in maritime operations, Ramacho added.

For his part, Lt. Col. Roderick Garcia, 79th Infantry Battalion commander, disclosed that they are also getting involved in securing Apo Island and Negros Oriental from the latest security threat.

Apo Island has police, Army and Coast Guard personnel deployed there round-the-clock.

The police and military are continuously coordinating even as the PRO-7 chief has pointed out that at present, “there is no direct threat sighted or monitored threat groups in the region”.

Law enforcement authorities are appealing to the public to help monitoring the presence of suspicious-looking persons and report them immediately to the nearest police station. Judaline Partlow/PNAnorthboundasia.com