No specific threat in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines - There is no specific terror threat in the country following the death in Pakistan of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but members of President Aquino's security cluster are under orders to monitor developments and ensure that necessary precautions are in place to stave off possible retaliatory attacks.
The President told Palace reporters yesterday that concerned security agencies are set to meet today to discuss the issue and apprise him of the situation.
Directed to attend the briefing were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Armed Forces chief Eduardo Oban Jr., Philippine National Police chief Director General Raul Bacalzo and National Bureau of Investigation director Magtanggol Gatdula.
"I came up with a memo directing the NSA, NICA, AFP chief, PNP chief, NBI Director, SND, SILG and the SOJ to convene, assess and finalize (reports on) the threats following the death of Osama bin Laden," Aquino said.
"They are preparing their various briefs. They will be meeting (at 9 a.m. today)," he said.
Aquino ordered on Monday the military and the police to be on full alert following the killing of bin Laden.
"The death of Osama bin Laden marks a signal defeat for the forces of extremism and terrorism," Aquino said in a statement on Monday.
But Aquino said the death of bin Laden "should not lull us into complacency" even as he called for vigilance.
"Together with my national security team, we continue to take all relevant precautions and steps to ensure the safety of our people. We, as a democratic and free people, remain committed to fighting terrorism and are in solidarity with the peoples of the United Nations," Aquino added.
The development has prompted the US State Department to issue travel alerts for its nationals.
"Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, US citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations," the travel alert released by the embassy said.
"US government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture," it added. The travel alert expires on Aug.1.

Not on terrorists' priority
Defense Undersecretary and spokesman Eduardo Batac said terrorists were certainly planning retaliatory attacks but the Philippines might be far from their minds.
"We know the terrorists will always come up with retaliatory action but as to targeting the Philippines, I think we would be very far in the priority list," Batac said in a press briefing yesterday.
"However, we again caution our people that we have to remain vigilant and alert. It's the only way that we can combat terrorism," he said.
"Without the cooperation of our people, it's going to be very hard for authorities to detect any movement," he added.
"If there are movements (by terrorists) we can detect that. They have to familiarize themselves with the terrain, especially in urban areas. There are measures by which we can detect the entry of these foreign groups. But we can't be complacent," Batac said.
"We caution our citizenry that this is not the time to put our guard down but a time for more vigilance and alertness in seeing to it that the specter of terrorism does not creep back into our national territory," he added.
AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu said supporters of bin Laden would likely prioritize the US and European countries.
"They always seek something that will create a worldwide effect psychologically. If they attack the US or big companies in Europe, it will have a huge psychological effect," Mapagu said.
But he stressed the Philippines should not be complacent.
"Even if we say that we are low in their priorities, the mere fact that we are one of the possible targets, then we should remain vigilant," Mapagu said.
Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama, for his part, said he has ordered his men to step up intelligence gathering.
"(The terrorists) may seek to retaliate but our troops are aware of that. Because of this, we enhanced our readiness to avoid untoward incidents," he said.
Pama said they do not see any need to send more troops to areas believed to be strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf.
"More or less we know the critical areas and the people to be monitored," he said.
In Zamboanga City, security officials said vigilance among civilians is key to thwarting terror attacks.
"The vigilance of the civilians will be a major factor in blocking any sabotage attempts," according to Police Regional Office 9 director Chief Superintendent Elpidio de Asis.
But he said the Zamboanga peninsula is generally safe because terror groups operate mainly in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi areas.
De Asis said the Abu Sayyaf lost its direct financial support from al-Qaeda after the death of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, brother-in-law of bin Laden, during a raid in 2007 in Madagascar. Khalifa was in Zamboanga City in the 1990s.
"So the concentration now of the Abu Sayyaf is mainly in BaSulTa (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) areas but our counterparts have been running after the group," De Asis said.
"The civilians know already how to take actions, in fact the bulk of our successful operations were the contributions of the civilians," said Lt. Col. Randolf Cabangbang, spokesman of Western Mindanao Command or Westmincom.
* Time to unite
PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. said the death of bin Laden should be an opportunity for Filipinos to unite against terrorism.
"This is the chance for all Filipinos – Muslims and Christians – to join hands in neutralizing terrorism. This is our chance," he said.
Cruz also said the killing of bin Laden would surely affect the operations of terror groups in terms of funding and training. He said the PNP is not ruling out sympathy attacks.
"The police now have more reason to believe that terror groups will weaken because we know that they get support like funding, training, and experience from al-Qaeda through Jemaah Islamiyah," he said.
Bacalzo has ordered the deployment of more policemen in vital installations like seaports, airports and terminals.
"So far, we have not monitored specific threats. We are calling on the public to be calm but vigilant. We assure our people that the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are working hard to ensure the safety of the public," he said.
Cruz said additional members of the Special Action Force (SAF) have been sent to critical areas in Mindanao like Basilan and Tawi-Tawi as part of security precautions.
* No time for complacency
For senators, there is no place for complacency even after bin Laden's death.
"I am relieved that this so-called leader of al-Qaeda has been neutralized but let us not drop our guard, let us not relax," Sen. Gregorio Honasan said.
He also said that the government should address more vigorously the concerns of the people in Mindanao, home to most of the Muslims in the country.
"What we have to do is, since terrorism is not a person, it's an idea, we have to fight it with a better idea – justice, peace, equal treatment, equal opportunity and development for our Muslim brothers," Honasan said.
He said bin Laden's supporters were unlikely to encounter much difficulty in finding his replacement, hence the need for vigilance.
"Let us not consider the problem solved because others will be aspiring to replace him, maybe not as charismatic as him. The problem is we don't know yet who this will be," Honasan said.
Sen. Edgardo Angara called on the government to put in place tougher security measures to stave off retaliatory terror attacks.
"We should remain vigilant. We must not let our guard down because we see how these terrorist cells evolve. We should assume that another has taken his place to lead the terrorist group," Angara said.
Angara emphasized the importance of cutting terrorists' financial support. He has filed a bill that, if approved, would allow authorities to look into the financial background of suspected terror financiers and freeze their accounts even without a court order.
"It is a known fact that terrorism is mainly dependent on funding. To prevent these heinous acts, authorities must be able to block their access to their money and penalize the financiers even without an actual terrorist act taking place," Angara said. With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Roel Pareño, Pia Lee-Brago, Alexis Romero, Marvin Sy

Post a Comment