PHILIPPINES military officials downplayed a travel alert for Palawan Province issued by the US Embassy on Wednesday, insisting the island paradise and popular tourist haunt remains safe for both locals and foreign nationals.
Nevertheless, the army’s Western Command (Wescom) said that local security forces will remain vigilant following the Tuesday warning.
“We remain on heightened alert but assure the public that Palawan, being one of the most beautiful places in the world, is safe for both local and foreign nationals, resigning in and/or visiting the province, including Puerto Princesa,” a Wescom statement quoted by ABS-CBN News said.
The US Embassy in its warning claimed to have received “credible information” that terrorist groups may be planning a kidnapping spree targeting foreigners in Palawan Province, including Puerto Princesa City and its surrounding areas, such as the Subterranean River National Park.
The embassy urged US citizens to consider the warning before planning a trip there and to review personal security plans, avoid large crowds and gatherings, and to remain vigilant at all times. It also reminded Americans to take note of its Worldwide Caution issued on March 6, which listed the Philippines as one of the countries where its citizens may face terrorist threats.
The Palawan warning comes just weeks after the embassy urged Americans to reconsider their travel plans to the Philippines’ central Visayas due to terrorism threats there. Shortly after that advice, reports emerged of clashes between local security forces and the Abu Sayyaf terror group, whose members were planning an attack on tourists in the resort island.
That incident was the first on the tourist island by Abu Sayyaf, who have long engaged in kidnapping for ransom – often targeting foreigners. The group, also blamed for deadly bombings, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State movement prompting fears of its spreading influence in Southeast Asia.
In Palawan, however, army spokesman Col Edgar Arevalo said local forces have not received any intelligence on any potential threat to the province.
Wescom said the authorities have already been ramping up security in preparation for the coming tourist season – even before the US advisory.
It said regular patrols are being conducted in the seas off Palawan to prevent the entry of intruders while checkpoints have also been set up in major hotspots. There are also joint efforts with resort operators and local community members to ensure the safety of all visitors.
“We see to it that we are always a step further on security,” Wescom said. Local authorities will be also conducting a security council meeting on Wednesday to discuss the travel warning.