CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The firefight between a group of heavily armed Abu Sayyaf bandits and security forces in Bohol will have no effect on its neighboring province of Camiguin as an expected 40,000 tourists flock to this island-province in time for Holy Week.
At least nine persons were killed as the clash between 10 suspected armed members of the Abu Sayyaf Group continued in the town of Inabanga on Tuesday, reports said. One of the casualties was a policeman, the report added.
Supt. Reggie Oñate, Camiguin police’s deputy provincial director for operations, said they have been on full alert following an order from the regional police command even before the Lenten season.
Mambajao Mayor Jurdin Jesus Romualdo, in a text message Tuesday afternoon, said the local government was monitoring the situation in Bohol as tourists visiting the White Island and Mantigue Island, two of the tourist spots in Camiguin, were not evacuated.
The White and Mantigue islands both face the southern part of Bohol while Mambajao town which is facing Bohol is just 50 kilometers way from Jagna town.
Camiguin is four hours away from the southern town of Jagna, Bohol by boat. Jagna is about two hours’ drive from Inabanga, the site of the confrontation.
“It is business as usual,” Romualdo said referring to the situation in Camiguin, but advised residents and visitors to be on alert and to report to law enforcers of any suspicious-looking persons in their vicinity.
Oñate said the eruption of violence in Bohol will have no effect on the religious activities in Camiguin, particularly the yearly “Panaad,” in time for the observance of the Holy Week.
Oñate said the island is generally peaceful.
In a previous interview on April 3, Supt. Wilbur Salaguste, the former Camiguin provincial deputy director for administration, said the 200 police officers in the island are on full alert and those who are on leave were recalled, to secure the island not just on Holy Week but for the summer months.
“Aside from Panaad, we also have a security plan for the entire summer,” Salaguste said, prior to his reassignment.
“Panaad” is a yearly act of penitence for devotees who walk the island’s 70-kilometer circumferential road during the Holy Week.
He said the province’s police force was divided into groups and were assigned to keep watch on the various parts of the island, especially infrastructures, establishments and tourist spots.
The Australian Embassy in Manila on Tuesday advised its citizens not to go to Central and Western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and Southern Sulu Sea, describing the area as “very high risk.”
In the advisory posted on their website, the departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australians who travel to the area “should typically seek professional security advice.”
The advisory emphasized that regular travel insurance policies will be void in areas of concern and the government will “unlikely be able to provide consular assistance.”
On Monday, the Australian government also warned its citizens to be extra cautious in traveling to Central Visayas, specifically the provinces of Cebu and Bohol.
The United Kingdom on Tuesday urged its citizens in the Philippines to be extra vigilant because of a “high threat” of terrorism in Mindanao and parts of the Visayas.
The travel advisory urged travelers to avoid “all travel to western Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.”
The British government also reminded its citizens of possible terror attacks in areas frequently visited by foreigners such as airports, malls, public transport hubs, and places of worship.
“Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out attacks at any time and anywhere in the country,” the advisory said. “You should remain vigilant at all times and report anything suspicious to the local authorities.”
Britain is the third country to issue a travel advisory against the Philippines, following similar warnings from the United States and Australia. With PNA