Military heightens security in Palawan vs ASG kidnapping plot

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan – The military has heightened Palawan’s security alert following “credible” reports of a kidnapping threat by the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

In a statement released late Sunday, Western Command (Wescom) commander Lieutenant General Rozzano Briguez said their air and naval assets have been on constant security patrol, while the Marines and the Army special forces “are scouring grounds and coastlines” to ensure Palawan’s safety.

He said they are being supported by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the province and its Maritime Group in securing all strategic points at sea and on land.

“Wescom is grateful to our security partners and concerned citizens for proactively sharing with us vital security information. Wescom is validating all this information and is taking appropriate actions. We remain on heightened alert. All our units are undertaking appropriate security measures,” he said.

Briguez urged the public to remain vigilant and calm and to report suspicious personalities, incidents, or “anything doubtful” in their localities to their hotline number 09178960014, or any other fast means of communication.

Briguez’ statement was released by the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of Wescom after Provincial Legal Office (PLO) chief and Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) member, Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, sent out text messages to local government unit (LGU) officials, community leaders, and tourism operators, warning them to be vigilant against members of a remnant unit of the ASG from Sulu province who are attempting to gain entry to Palawan.

Matta told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) they issued the information on the belief that the kidnap-for-ransom group’s threat is “credible enough.”

“Wherever you go, there is a threat. It’s not only in the province that this is happening. Like other places in the country, our province is also threatened by remnants of this extremist group. Only this time, we believe the threat is credible enough so we alerted all our mayors and tourism operators, including barangay officials to be careful, be aware of their surroundings, and be vigilant,” Matta said.

He also said that Palawan’s safety and security does not only concern the military and the police, but also entails the awareness and cautiousness of the public.

“Governor Jose Alvarez and I, agree that the best weapon against terrorism threat is public awareness and vigilance to protect communities as a whole. What business we may lose in making this public is better than them (ASG) being able to really come in and do something more serious,” he said.

He said the heightened alert should put Palaweños at ease that all measures of security are being undertaken by the provincial government, in close cooperation with the military and the police, to sustain peace and order even in far-flung communities in the province.

Briguez also stressed that any group trying to pose danger to the province should not underestimate the attentiveness and unity of the Palaweños.

They can attempt to enter the province but they will have difficulty in perpetrating their atrocities as its residents will not allow them to do so.

“WESCOM and the Palaweños take security and safety very seriously and we work together to ensure that these criminals will not be able to succeed with their evil plans,” Briguez said.

He said even before the information came out, Wescom and the residents of Palawan have already formed a partnership and mutual commitment to ensure security and safety through an information-sharing mechanism.

This partnership against any threat, Briguez reiterated, remains strong with the backing of municipal and barangay officials through the conduct of neighborhood watch and timely reporting.

This is further strengthened by the commitment of the tourism and business sectors, fishing communities, yacht owners, and others whose support is key to maintaining peace and order in Palawan.

Briguez said Palawan is ready to address threats, always bearing in mind that security is a shared concern and the responsibility of all. Celeste Anna Formoso/