Limestone outcroppings such as this one dot the waters off El Nido town in Palawan. GEORGE TAPAN

US, UK issue travel warning on Palawan
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - “Shoot on sight” is how President Duterte wants the military to deal with Abu Sayyaf bandits, as the United States and Britain have alerted their citizens to threats of kidnapping of foreigners by the terror group in some resorts in Palawan.

“My order to the security forces is stalk, shoot them on site. Patayin ninyo (Kill them), do not waste your bullet, then we take care of them in hospital. Expend your bullet to finish the problem because it is really a problem. It is a problem of security, law and order,” Duterte said in remarks before journalists shortly before his departure for Cambodia yesterday to attend the World Economic Forum on ASEAN.

He said soldiers should not hesitate to kill terrorists.

“If you encounter them, kill them. Filipinos are in great number. Next year there will be more – there will be about 125 million of us. We can always replenish the supply, do not worry,” he said in English and Filipino.

The latest advisories came weeks after the two countries and several others alerted their citizens to threats of kidnapping in Bohol.

Security forces would later pounce on Abu Sayyaf bandits in three boats in a remote riverside community in Bohol.

Six militants and four government troops died in the Bohol clashes, including terror leader Muammar Askali, also known as Abu Rami.

“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 province, Philippines, to include Puerto Princesa City and the areas surrounding Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park,” the embassy said in its travel advisory.

The British embassy also advised British nationals to carefully consider travel plans and exercise heightened vigilance in the areas mentioned by the US embassy.

In its travel advice, the British embassy said “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the Philippines. Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out attacks at any time and anywhere in the country.”

The travel advice said attacks could happen anywhere, including in places visited by foreigners, like airports, shopping malls, public transport and places of worship.

“You should remain vigilant at all times and report anything suspicious to the local authorities,” it said.

The US embassy reminded its nationals of the most recent Worldwide Caution, dated March 6, 2017, indicating threat of terrorist actions and violence against US citizens and interests abroad, including in the Philippines.

In its previous travel alert, the US embassy said it has received “unsubstantiated yet credible” information regarding possible kidnapping of foreigners in the Visayas, especially Cebu and Bohol.

Prepared vs threat

For Western Command (Wescom) commander Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, it would be difficult for the Abu Sayyaf to snatch tourists in Palawan as the island province is amply protected.

He also said that while the military has not confirmed any specific threat of kidnapping or any terror activity in Palawan, it is taking the US travel advisory seriously.

“With their vast network, the US will not just release without any basis,” he said, referring to the US embassy advisory.

“However, based on our own intelligence, we view this threat as very minimal. While there were previous threat reports, these were not confirmed following weeks of validation. We don’t see anything,” Del Rosario said.

He said Wescom has been on heightened alert since the clashes in Bohol between security forces and a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits.

“All the (security) efforts are in place and the terrorist could not just penetrate (the province),” Del Rosario said. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude, Robertzon Ramirez, Emmanuel Tupas

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