Sunday, July 21, 2019

Malilong: Terrorist threat in Cebu?

The Other Side

IT LOOKS like tourism is off to a shaky start in Cebu or at least in its southern part this year.

The United Kingdom has advised its citizens against “all but essential travel” to parts of Mindanao and southern Cebu, starting from Dalaguete on the east coast up to Badian on the west because of alleged terrorist threats. It will not be surprising if the United States and Australia will follow suit as they have done so in the past.

In fact, only last week, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a travel advisory declaring that based on the assessment by a team of security experts from their Transportation Security Administration, aviation security at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) “does not maintain and carry out effective security consistent with the security standards established by the International Civil Aviation Security Organization.”

The US agency said that it was coordinating with Philippine authorities to correct the security deficiencies and bring them up to par with international standards but at the same time issued a veiled warning that the TSA will “take appropriate measures as warranted” based on their continued assessment of the NAIA’s security standards.

What is more worrisome to us is the UK advisory because of its impact on tourism and on our perception of the peace and order situation in the area. Largely undeveloped for many long years, the economy in southernmost Cebu is beginning to stir notwithstanding the notable lack of government investments. The activity is mostly tourism-driven; a number of the province’s diving sites and beautiful beaches are located in the south and whale-watching is drawing thousands of visitors to Oslob.

This is not the first time, of course, that we have been told by a foreign government of a possible terrorist threat in our southern corridor and in all instances, nothing happened. But that is precisely the reason for being concerned: why are these reports recurring? This could not be fake news that the UK just picked from one of those many dubious websites that churn out s...t everyday. There must be at least a grain of truth to it.

But why southern Cebu? The warning came in the wake of the New Year’s Eve bombing of a mall in Cotabato City that left two people dead and 34 others injured. That is why the UK advised its citizens to absolutely refrain from traveling to western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago while limiting travel to the rest of Mindanao--and southern Cebu--to those that are essential only.

Why should we be lumped with the rest of Mindanao? The travel ban excludes Camiguin, Dinagat and Siargao islands, all of which are closer to the center of the armed conflict than we are. Theoretically, we should be safer from the terrorists in Mindanao than these islands--and Negros--are. But they are not in the list of threatened areas while we are.

I am not fear-mongering, just concerned. I trust in the capacity of our policemen and soldiers to protect us and keep us safe from harm. I am confident that they can handle any threat from any source. But as the UK urged its citizens in the Philippines to do, we should “remain vigilant at all times and report anything suspicious to the authorities.” We can only do that if we are aware and are accepting that there is a threat.


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