Philippines: Gensan on high alert amid festival threatBy Edwin Espejo Aug 15, 2013 6:22AM UTC
Like the rest of Mindanao cities that are celebrating their respective festivals, General Santos City is also pushing through with its 15th Tuna Festival that coincides with the 45th Charter Anniversary of the city.
This time, close to 500 policemen will be deployed in major activity areas as Mayor Ronnel Rivera acknowledged that security threats are among the major concerns of organizers. They will be joined by an Army contingent from Joint Task Force Gensan.
“Security is a major concern,” Rivera said in a press conference where activities of the festival were announced.
The festival will have its grand opening on September 5, also the city charter anniversary, at the Oval Plaza. It will close on September 9.
Rivera said the city police force will cordon off areas where festival activities will be held with policemen and augmentation forces to ensure no untoward incident will happen.
He said they are following the lead of Davao City and will ban carrying of backpacks in areas where crowds will converge to watch the festival.
Davao will celebrate its Kadayawan Festival over the weekend.
The city mayor also assured residents and visitors that the police and military are on top of the security situation.
City Administrator Arnel Zapatos said the city “will not bend the rules but will understand as the needs arise” even as he asked residents to bear with the increased security measures now being implemented in the city.
General Santos City was included in the list of cities in Mindanao named by several foreign embassies where possible terrorist attacks could occur.
On July 26, a powerful blast outside a crowded bar at the Limketkai Center in Cagayan de Oro killed eight people, six of them on the spot, and injured 46 others. Ten days later, on August 5, nine people were also killed and 30 others were wounded when a roadside bomb went off in the city’s central business district.
Nobody claimed responsibility in the two deadly explosions although Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said it was the handiwork of a new group called Kilafah Islamic Movement, reportedly composed of the armed groups opposed to the peace process in Mindanao.
Police Supt. Ruel Berango, deputy city director for operations, said they are validating all intelligence reports that concern the security of the city.
He said while the recent spate of bombings has so far spared the city, they are doing their best to prevent any escalation and spillover of violence in General Santos.
General Santos has been victim of bomb attacks in the past. The last explosion in the city was in 2008 when an unidentified man lobbed a grenade outside Philbest Canning, a tuna canning plant owned by the family of Mayor Rivera. Two people were killed in the incident.
In 2009, the city’s Tuna Festival was adjudged as second best in the country. Tourists have been flocking to General Santos to see the unique festival, a one of its kind in Asia.
This year’s festival is chaired by General Santos City Fish Port manager Edwin Maliwat.
General Santos is acknowledged as the country’s Tuna Capital with close to 80 percent of the country’s overall tuna catch being landed at the city’s sprawling fishing port complex. Six of the country’s seven tuna canning plants are also located in the city.