Faceless but lethal

Director General Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippine National Police, points to the diagram during a news conference on February 4, 2019, at Camp Crame in Quezon City, to announce that five suspected Abu Sayyaf militants wanted for alleged involvement in the bombing of a church in southern Philippines have surrendered to authorities. Albayalde said the five will be charged with murder for their role in the January 27 bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral in Sulu province’s Jolo town that killed 23 people and wounded about 100. The police say the suspects escorted the two suicide bombers around Jolo and to a meeting with the Abu Sayyaf commander accused of funding the attack. The police have said the two suicide bombers were Indonesians.

POLICE and military officials are urging Filipinos to extend their patience and maintain their equanimity, as law-enforcement agencies implement stricter security measures around the country, particularly among so-called places of convergence, or in areas where people tend to gather in large volumes.

The tighter security, law enforcers say, was prompted by the election season and the threat of terrorism, exemplified by the recent twin bombings in Sulu late last month that killed 23 people and wounded 95 others.

A soldier is seen inside a Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo after two bombs exploded on January 27, 2019.

The incident at the Metro Rail Transit 3’s (MRT 3) Mandaluyong Station last week, where a lady Chinese fashion student splashed soya drink on a policeman who barred her from boarding the train because of the liquid she was carrying, characterized the level of security in the capital—and the kind of anxiety that it has spawned among people.

But National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Guillermo Eleazar, who had earlier put police forces in Metro Manila under red alert in the aftermath of the bombings, said proactive measures are needed to deal with any security threat.

“I am asking for the cooperation and understanding of the public on the [security] measures that we are implementing and for the enforcers that implement them, be they policemen or other law-enforcement agencies,” said Eleazar.

“The point here is we are taking this for the whole good of Filipinos,” he added.

The tightened security at the MRT 3 and the rest of the Metro’s commuter railway facilities, and even in other areas of public convergence, had been prompted by a bomb threat, which, although common even in other areas as noted by National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde, cannot be ignored.

“Well, bomb threats are all over, but this bomb threat is not being taken for granted. All bomb threats, whether they are jokes or prank calls, we will respond to them,” he said.

Officials said if bombers were able to sneak in the improvised explosive device that blasted a place of worship like the Jolo Cathedral, then there is a greater chance it can be done on a softer target unless measures are taken.

Eleazar said the election campaign period and the threat of terrorism prompted them to double security in Metro Manila, a measure that has also been taken by security forces around the country.

“The National Capital Region Police Office has more than 14,000 personnel deployed in Metro Manila. As the campaign starts…the next three months are going to be critical, top candidates will be active in all areas of Metro Manila as they start wooing the voters,” he said.

“The start of the campaign period also triggers strict additional rules and regulations set by the Comelec [Commission on Elections],” he added, referring to the conduct of checkpoints and implementation of gun ban in the areas of peace and order and security.

The regulations also include the campaign against threat groups and private armed groups who threaten to undermine the elections.

Albayalde said that the PNP may even adjust its projected deployment of personnel for the election duties, given that at least 701 areas around the country have been categorized as election hot spots or about 42.9 percent of the 1,634 cities and municipalities across the country.

In Mindanao, security forces are continuously operating against terrorist groups, especially in Sulu and Maguindanao, where they are running after groups aligned with the Islamic State.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said that security measures undertaken in Metro Manila, like the banning of liquid at the MRT 3, are seen by the military as good precautionary or proactive measures against terrorism.

He noted that such measure had also been a standard operating procedure, especially at the airports.

“I hope that they [the Filipinos] understand these kinds of effort,” Arevalo said.

“These are all preemptive, proactive measures. I hope [they] understand why we have to do this,” he added.

Image credits: Philippine National Police via AP, Wesmincom Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP


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