“You started this. I wanted to talk to you but you leave me with no choice,” Duterte said, addressing the terrorist group directly during a meeting with national security officials in Matina, Davao City just a few hundred meters from his residence.
The meeting with national security officials and several Cabinet members started at 11 p.m. and ended at 4 a.m.
Duterte called on the nation to prepare for reprisals from the terrorist group similar to the Davao City bombing as the government pressed its campaign to wipe out the kidnap-for-ransom gang.
“I am calling on the nation to prepare for reprisals. There will be sacrifices to be made but we have to address this problem once and for all,” Duterte said.
The Abu Sayyaf Group, which identifies itself with the Islamic State, generates funds by taking hostages, both local and foreign, and demanding a ransom for their release. Hostages whose families do not pay up are beheaded—including the latest victim, an 18-year-old Filipino whose parents failed to pay his ransom.
“If I have to hire the Gurkhas to help us fight the Abu Sayyaf, I am willing to do it,” Duterte said.
While Duterte said he believed that the Abu Sayyaf and other extremist groups are products of historical injustices, he said the actions of the group, including kidnapping and beheadings, have made it imperative for government to deal with the problem by force.
“There’s no other option. These people are like germs that must be eliminated,” the President said.
Several Army battalions and Special Forces members have been dispatched to Sulu to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf, while Navy vessels have formed a blockade to stop the terrorists from fleeing the island.
In the wake of Friday’s bomb attack, security forces in Davao assured the public that the city remained safe and encouraged people to go about their daily business.
Police Regional Office 11 Regional Director Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan said security forces were on full alert and prepared for any eventualities.
Police were in close coordination with the military, which has also intensified their security measures all over the city, he said.
“We assure the people that the PNP, in fact the Eastern Mindanao Command is with us, we assure the people that we are doing our best to keep the situation in Davao City and nearby places as normal as possible,” Gaerlan said.
The commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command, Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, said his troops were on full alert and securing the city.
He added that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is helping the police with their investigation of the Friday night blast by providing them intelligence reports.
He also said that they have deployed additional troops in Davao City and intensified checkpoint operations in all terminals including seaports and airports.
“We also increased troop presence and visibility in malls, parks, churches and other public places. We also intensified efforts against terrorist groups,” Guerrero added.
On Saturday morning, President Duterte said that all the heads of the security forces of the government are in the city right now to ensure the safety of the city.
Duterte said that even the country’s top intelligence officials were in the city to help pinpoint the people responsible for the bombing, which claimed 15 lives.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, the President’s daughter, said that the city will continue all its regular activities as they will refuse to bow down to terrorism.
“We will never bow down to a terrorist attack. It will take us hundreds of bombings to fall,” she said.
The mayor also promised to shoulder all hospital and burial expenses of all the victims of the blast.
PNP chief, Ronald Dela Rosa revealed on Saturday night that the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device that used a mortar shell.
Three persons of interest were tagged as the police continue to search for clear CCTV footage of the attack.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto on Sunday urged President Duterte to call for a National Security Council meeting after his foreign trip next week, so that other leaders of the nation could help him develop policies and programs that would crush the resurgent Abu Sayyaf.
“If the four presidents—Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Aquino—will be in attendance in the NSC, “they can share their successes and failures in battling terrorism,” the senator said.
“Theirs is a ‘been there, done that’ squad that can impart to the incumbent the pitfalls and the so-called minefields ahead,” Recto said.
Recto said Duterte’s four living predecessors had confronted terror attacks of all kinds.
Another area where “pooled advice” is needed, Recto said, is “how to uphold citizen’s rights, minimize public inconvenience, rally the support of the people, manage the country’s image abroad, and firewall the economy” during a “state of lawless violence.”
Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo also assured tourists in Davao that the city remained safe, after several countries issued travel advisories that warned their nationals to avoid traveling to the Philippines.
“The quick and professional response and action of our police, armed forces and security group shows that Davao is well-prepared for contingencies, including isolated attacks like this bombing incident,” Teo said.
The Palace also played down the travel advisories issued by Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States, which warned their citizens to avoid travel to the Philippines after the President declared “a state of lawlessness” in the wake of Friday night’s bombing.
“There is nothing new here,” said Communications Secretary Martin Andanar. “It’s really also their duty to advise their citizens who are traveling to be careful.”
Australia told its citizens to reconsider their plans to travel to the eastern part of Mindanao, including Davao City, “and to exercise high degree of caution in the Philippines.”
The United States Embassy said in its advisory that it has temporarily suspended all official travel to Mindanao.
“While we have no information that indicates there is a direct threat to US citizens or interests in the Philippines, the embassy encourages all US citizens to remain vigilant and employ sound personal security measures as you go about your day,” it said.
The embassy also reminded its citizens that the US Department of State Worldwide issued a memo on March 3 on the “ongoing threat of terrorist actions and violence against United States citizens and interests abroad, including the Philippines.”
The United Kingdom told its citizens to avoid traveling to southwest Mindanao and Sulu, the bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf.
It also advised its citizens to “allow extra time to pass through security” while traveling through the Philippines, which should be expected with the state of lawlessness declaration.
They were also advised against joining “large crowds and demonstrations,” take precautions against the “high incidence of street crime and robbery throughout the Philippines,” and to monitor local news reports.
“There is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping. There has been an increase in kidnapping of foreign nationals since late 2015. It’s likely that terrorist groups continue to plan kidnap operations against western nationals in the region. You should remain vigilant at all times,” the government wrote.
The Singapore Embassy in Manila also advised its citizens to “exercise vigilance” as it condemned the bomb attack.
The Canadian government updated its “security tab” and advised its citizens against traveling to Mindanao and Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf had kidnapped Canadian nationals in Samal Island. The two victims were later beheaded by the bandits after their ransom demands were not met.
“There is no nationwide advisory in effect for the Philippines. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to an ongoing terrorist threat to Westerners and Western interests,” the Global Affairs Canadian advisory said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rio N. Araja
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