TERROR alert level 3 is in effect nationwide police said Thursday following the arrest of two men suspected of planting a bomb near the US Embassy in Manila on Monday.
In a press conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City, Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Ronald dela Rosa said this means the public should expect tighter security measures, particularly the setting up of random and mobile checkpoints.
Dela Rosa also advised the public to be alert, vigilant and observant, but not to panic.
The PNP chief said the public had nothing to worry about, despite the highest alert level.
Dela Rosa has also issued orders to regional police directors to tighten security measures in major cities.
In the same press conference, Dela Rosa presented two of the five suspects in the failed embassy bomb attack. The suspects were identified as Rayson “Rashid” Kilala Sakdal and Jiaher Guinar.
Rashid, who placed the improvised bomb in a trash bin near the embassy, is a returnee to the Islamic faith and a religious preacher in Bulacan, Dela Rosa said. Guinar was assigned as the trigger man.
Rashid said the original target was Luneta Park, but they were bothered by their conscience and planted the bomb instead near the US Embassy.
The suspects’ three accomplices transported the IED from Central Mindanao to Metro Manila, Dela Rosa said.
He said the two suspects are members of the Ansar Khilafah terror group, which has direct links with the Maute terror group that is now the center of military operations in Butig, Lanao del Sur.
The PNP is now hunting down the three accomplices of Rashid and Guinar who are believed to have returned to Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
The intelligence community has begun an intensive hunt for terror cells in Metro Manila and other urbanized centers to prevent terrorist attacks.
Ansar Khilafah, which has links to the Islamic State terror group, was headed by the bomb maker Usman Basit until his death in May 2015.
After he was killed in a clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, his Ansar Khilafah group disbanded and joined the newly formed Dawlah Islamiya, most of whom were members of the Maute group.
During interrogation, the suspects said they changed the target of their attack because they didn’t want to hurt innocent civilians. They tried to detonate the embassy bomb, but it did not go off, they told investigators.
Police said they found Rashid and Guinar’s name in the cell phone used as a detonator.
Dela Rosa said the two might have been trying to impress the IS with the bomb attack.
Following the notice of a level 3 terror alert, militant groups warned the Duterte administration against using the terrorist threat to crack down on political dissent and to declare Martial Law.
“While we do not discount the very real threat posed by terrorist groups, we are wary that the so-called ‘terror alert level 3’ coupled with the state of lawlessness proclamation will pave the way for political persecution, crackdowns even–especially as this announcement comes at a time when dissent against the Duterte administration’s recent actions are mounting,” said Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago.
The lawmakers aid raids and other police operations might be used to target political dissidents.
“We fear that all these moves might even result to the imminent declaration of martial law. If that happens, then Mr. Duterte will be taking another page from the book of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which the President has shown absurd admiration for in recent weeks,” Elago added.
The lawmaker called on the public to remain keen and vigilant on political developments and not allow the administration to abuse any incident to facilitate “state fascism.”
The militant group Anakbayan likewise scored Duterte’s “Marcosian slips of the tongue” as in his recent threats of murdering human rights advocates, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and even declaring Martial Law.
“We warn Duterte against using the threat of terrorism to repress political dissenters. We urge public vigilance especially since this terror warning comes suspiciously at a time of mounting protests against the Duterte-Marcos alliance,” Anakbayan national chairman Vencer Crisostomo said.
“Of late Duterte has taken to threatening the murder of rights activists and suspending the writ of habeas corpus that it would seem the president sees the dictator as a role model. Let this serve as a warning that the Filipino youth will be at the forefront of the fight against fascism,” he added. With John Paolo Bencito, PNA