AUTHORITIES in Cebu and nearby provinces in the Visayas have tightened security measures following the clash between government forces and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Inabanga, Bohol, that killed nine people.
The clash happened Tuesday, April 11, a day after the bandits from Mindanao entered Bohol in pump boats. The bandits were led by Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Maumar Askali, alias Abu Rami, who was also killed in the gunfight, said police and military officials.
The bandits' entry to Bohol, which is far from the group's jungle lairs in the southern provinces of Sulu and Basilan in Mindanao, raised concerns about security in ports and other points of entry, as well as about tourism in Central Visayas.
Jaypee Orcullo, an officer of the Department of Tourism in Bohol, told the Associated Press that some tourists canceled hotel reservations. He estimated around 10 percent may have canceled their online booking.
In Cebu, officials in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue have deployed more security personnel in terminals and ports, and implemented checkpoints to ensure the public's safety. The City Governments of Mandaue and Cebu are offering a P100,000 reward to those who can report suspicious persons and activities in their areas.
But are the security measures being implemented in Cebu enough to prevent the bandits from entering the province? How easy is it to travel by sea from Cebu to Bohol and vice versa?
Points of entry
The regular points of entry to and from Cebu and Bohol are through their major ports. Ferries and fastcrafts have daily trips from Cebu City to Tagbilaran City.
The towns of Tubigon, Talibon, and Ubay in Bohol also have daily trips to and from the queen city of the south.
It will be difficult for terrorists or any armed group to go through these ports, as security is tight and several authorities have been deployed.
Ports in Cebu City are also equipped with metal detectors and X-ray machines, not to mention the series of security check that a passenger has to go through before boarding a ferry.
Cebu to Bohol
But unknown to many, there are other points of entry whose security are not that strict.
In Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova town in Mactan Island, motor bancas that can accommodate up to 90 people travel to and from Getafe in Bohol daily. Getafe is one of the neighboring towns of Inabanga.
SunStar Philippines took a trip to Bohol and back to Cebu on Wednesday through these entry points to find out if additional security measures were implemented in these areas.
But these entry points are way different from those found in Cebu City. An unfinished building serves as the port’s terminal in Cordova. No metal detectors, no X-ray machines, no baggage inspection, and no police visibility.
The only authorities seen in the area are two Coast Guard personnel with no visible service firearm.
The motor banca left Cordova at 9:30 a.m. and arrived in Getafe at 10:40 a.m. The fare is P150.
“Ganahan ko kani akong sakyan kay dali ra ang biyahe ug dili dugay (I like to travel through this route as the travel is fast),” said Roel Marson, a native of Bagacay, Talibon.
When asked about the lack of security at Cordova port, Marson, who travels to Bohol with his family every Holy Week, said, “Pinaka maayo kung naay security para safety, mas bintaha gayud kaayo (It would be better if there's tighter security for the public's safety).”
Bohol to Cebu
From the port of Getafe, there are three possible entry points to Cebu: Hilton Port in Punta Engano, Lapu-Lapu City; Cordova Port; and Pier 1 terminal in Cebu City.
The presence of police and military personnel in Getafe is minimal, the port has a small Coast Guard outpost and a security guard who collects entrance fee from vehicles.
In terms of security, Getafe port is not far from the one in Cordova. No metal detectors, no X-ray machines, no baggage inspection, and no police visibility.
The motor banca left the port of Getafe at 12 p.m. and arrived around 2 p.m. at Hilton Port in Punta Engaño, Lapu-Lapu City. The fare is also P150.
At least three security guards and two Coast Guard personnel with no visible service firearm were seen at Hilton Port. Also, there were no police personnel in uniform.
People going to Bohol from Hilton Port also do not go through any security check. No metal detectors, no X-ray machines, and no baggage inspection.
Police Regional Office-Central Visayas Director Noli Taliño said augmentation of forces in these ports is on a case to case basis and would depend on the request for additional security of the ports authority.
"Sa Cebu, may Cebu Port Authority, meron silang sariling (security) in place. We are just augmenting the security there kung merong security request," he said.
But Taliño assured police presence outside the port terminals.
Located in between Cebu and Bohol are tourist spots like Nalusuan Island, Pandanon Island, Olanggo Island, and Hilutungan Island.
The Hilton Port is few meters away from luxury hotels like Movenpick and Shangri-la, where majority of their customers are foreigners. The port is also a 20-minute drive from the Mactan Cebu International Airport.
With the poor security measures implemented and minimal presence of security forces in the said alternative points of entry, tourists visiting spots located between the waters of Cebu and Bohol are ripe for the picking by any terror groups like the Abu Sayyaf.
Aside from the tourists, people traveling through these ports are also in danger.
In an archipelagic country like the Philippines, problems like this is always a big challenge for authorities. Unless addressed properly and immediately, the incident that happened in Inabanga will always pose a threat in any island in the country. (With LMY/SunStar Philippines)