RP ready for any new terror threat

() - April 24, 2004 - 12:00am
The Philippines is prepared for any new terrorist threat and is maintaining its forces in Iraq, officials said yesterday, following threats to eight countries supporting the US presence in Iraq.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said in a statement that "effective security measures are in place and we assure the public that we are ready to face and thwart terrorist attacks in the country."

Letters from a previously unheard-of group identifying itself as the "Yellow-Red Overseas Organization" threatened to target embassies, airlines and tourist spots in eight mostly Asian countries linked to US-led operations in Iraq.

Thai authorities said they were taking seriously the letters, which threatened attacks on major facilities in Australia, Japan, Kuwait, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand between April 20 and 30.

Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita confirmed the new threats were discussed at an intelligence meeting on Thursday but said they had not picked up any new signs of impending terror attacks.

However, National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Ricardo de Leon already deployed yesterday additional 100 heavily armed police personnel to guard embassies and foreign residences in Metro Manila.

"We are not taking the report lightly. I’m doubling security on all embassies and foreign residences to thwart any terrorist attacks," said De Leon, adding that personnel from the Regional Special Action Unit (RSAU) were rushed to Makati City, Pasay City and Manila starting yesterday.

At least 21 embassies and foreign residences are located in Makati City while the Japanese embassy and an American facility are in Pasay City. The US Embassy is situated along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.

De Leon also directed police officials to beef up security on government and private installations such as the Pandacan oil depot, transportation and communication facilities, public parks, shopping malls and bus terminals.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is also taking seriously the new terror warning. In an initial assessment, a senior anti-terrorism official said the threat could be related to the mounting conflict in Iraq and may be intended only for the South Korean government for refusing to withdraw its troops in the war-torn country.

Another terrorism official, meanwhile, expressed doubts as to whether the "Yellow-Red Overseas Organization" really exists. "This is a new group and we haven’t heard about them since this problem of terrorism has come out in the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

But just the same, he assured the people that parallel intelligence efforts are now being conducted along with foreign counterparts to determine the existence of this new shadowy terrorist group.

"Whether or not we are put on so-called hit list, the country’s armed forces and police and security establishments as well as our people are constantly on guard against any threats to our security," affirms Deputy Presidential Spokesman Ricardo Saludo.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo assured the Filipino people that the government had not eased up on its anti-terrorism campaign and had, in fact, designated last month Ermita to head the Anti-terrorism Task Force.

"The Philippines has been a staunch supporter of the global war against terrorism and has proven its worth in reducing the operational capability of terrorists domestically and transnationally," the President stressed.

"We need everybody’s support and I appeal to the public to back up the task force," she added.

Earlier this month, Philippine officials said they have foiled a series of large terrorist attacks in Manila following the arrest of six suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim insurgent group accused of links to the al-Qaeda network.

Ermita said in a radio interview that "the policy of Mrs. Arroyo is to continue our humanitarian mission in Iraq" where the Philippines has 49 soldiers and policemen assigned to the US-led coalition forces.

The Filipino soldiers, police and health workers in central Iraq are involved in training Iraqi policemen and in civic work.

Mrs. Arroyo also said in a statement a special team was now accounting for the whereabouts of hundreds of Filipino civilians believed to be working in Iraq to ensure their safety.

About 4,000 Filipino workers are reportedly employed by contractors and subcontractors in Iraq but according to Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin, they are safe inside US or coalition military camps and there is no immediate plan to evacuate them or ban deployment.

"There is no need as of now to pull out our contingent," Ebdalin told reporters but he stressed that the government is prepared to relocate or evacuate them if the workers need it or if they request it.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Roy Cimatu, the head of the Philippine Iraq Team, told reporters he has not yet recommended to Mrs. Arroyo that a new batch of solders and policemen be sent as part of the rotation of contingent members. But he indicated he may propose a "selective deployment" of contingent members who are most needed there like doctors.

The departure of 45 soldiers and police, most of them doctors and dentists, scheduled more than a week ago was postponed because of the increasing anti-coalition violence in Iraq.

Cimatu also said he has met with 3,500 of the 4,000 Filipino workers who are safe in various military camps, and none wanted to be evacuated.

He disclosed though that about 50 Filipino drivers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who travel to Iraq are at risk to attacks. The government, he said, will try to discourage them from continuing their jobs.Marichu Villanueva, Non Alquitran, Jaime Laude, AFP

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