‘Philippines safe, no spillover of Mindanao violence’

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
âPhilippines safe, no spillover  of Mindanao violenceâ
Soldiers escort a hearse during the funeral procession for a victim killed in the Jan. 27 cathedral bombing in Jolo, Sulu the other day.

MANILA, Philippines — Even with President Duterte’s order for a military offensive against, Malacañang yesterday allayed fears that the spate of violence in Mindanao would spill over to Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo also dismissed the possibility of expanding martial law to other parts of the country even after bomb attacks were staged in Mindanao despite the prevailing martial law since May 2017. 

“There is no spillover. It’s still there. The government will respond to whatever succeeding events that may happen. But we’re ready for any eventuality in that area,” Panelo said.

“There’s no necessity for any expansion of martial law, as the President has repeatedly declared,” he added.

Panelo gave assurance that the Philippines remains safe amid security concerns and travel warnings issued by other countries.

“We would like to assure the general public that they can go about their normal activities. Our country is still a safe haven,” he said.

Panelo said violence could have been worse had there been no martial law in Mindanao.

“Well, if there was no martial law there, I’m certain it will not only be one or two. As what happened during the Marawi incident, there was no martial law, and look what they did to Marawi – they destroyed an entire city,” Panelo said, referring to the siege of Marawi City in 2017 that forced Duterte to place the entire region of Mindanao under military law.

Panelo described as ”isolated incidents” the bombing of Jolo cathedral and the grenade attack at a mosque in Zamboanga City.

He said government forces could not be blamed for negligence.

“Not necessarily. As we have repeatedly said, a determined killer or determined bomber cannot be just stopped by anyone. They will always find ways and means to pursue their goal,” Panelo said.

“But this doesn’t mean we are not doing our job – they are. In fact, the lockdown is helping. There is a very strict implementation even of curfews that will prevent the occurrence of bombings in that area,” he added.

Panelo also deviated from Duterte’s statements last Tuesday that the attacks in Jolo were carried out by suicide bombers.

Panelo said the President’s statement that a couple detonated the bombs at the Jolo Cathedral is just among the angles being looked into by investigators.

The military has been downplaying the possibility of suicide bombings inspired by Islamic State extremists.

Panelo mentioned Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statements that it is not in the culture of Filipinos to be so extreme as to commit suicide attacks.

Duterte on Tuesday said a couple was behind the attacks at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo last Sunday.

Duterte said he is not doubting the briefer from military intelligence that foreign jihadists could be behind the bloody bombing attack.

 Proceed with caution

At the same briefing, Panelo said the spate of deadly attacks rocking Mindanao would not deter the people in the region from casting their votes in the second plebiscite on Feb. 6.

Panelo said the government is confident the plebiscite will push through peacefully.

“Yes, definitely. We are confident,” Panelo said.

“You must remember that the (Jan. 21) plebiscite was overwhelming in participation – 85 percent,” Panelo said, referring to the first plebiscite that ratified the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

Panelo did not agree with the assumption of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that the spate of violence might discourage the people or disrupt the conduct of the plebiscite on Feb. 6.

He said Comelec was just “speculating.”

“The people there in Mindanao are saying that everything is normal. They are just alert now and vigilant and cautious but Lorenzana said there is no need to defer the Feb. 6 schedule despite the recent violent incidents in Mindanao.

He pointed out there are no violent incidents in the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and the 67 barangays of North Cotabato where the second plebiscite would be held. 

“We don’t see any problem there,” Lorenzana told a press briefing on Wednesday.

The second leg of the plebiscite would be held in 28 barangays in North Cotabato and in Lanao del Norte that are not part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The residents in the area will vote whether they agree to be included in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) which would replace the ARMM by operation of law following the ratification of BOL in the first plebiscite. –  With Michael Punongbayan, John Unson, Jose Rodel Clapano




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