Australia and the United Kingdom have cautioned their citizens against traveling to Mindanao in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and clashes between government troops and insurgent groups.
“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the Philippines, including in Manila,” an advisory from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said. “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, including in places visited by foreigners, like airports, shopping malls, public transport, including the metro system, and places of worship.”
The advisory cited the blast at a shopping mall in Cotabato City that killed two people and wounded 34 others.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cautioned its citizens against travel to central and western Mindanao, including Sulu and the Zamboanga Peninsula.
The military said Wednesday that the blast could be linked to the coming plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
Although the latest advisory focused on Mindanao, the FCO also advised against non-essential travel to points south of Cebu due to threat of terrorism.
“Terrorist groups continue to plan kidnap operations against western nationals in the Philippines. This threat extends throughout the Philippines, both on land and at sea, but is particularly acute in the southern Philippines [Mindanao, Palawan and central Visayas, including Siquijor and Dumaguete],” the UK advisory said.
The United Kingdom also cited the report of American authorities that highlighted “poor aviation security” at the capital’s main airport.
“Additional security measures are in place on flights departing from this airport to the UK. You should cooperate fully with security officials. The UK keeps aviation security measures under constant review, in conjunction with international partners and the aviation industry,” the advisory said.
The United Kingdom said that some 154,000 British nationals visited the Philippines in 2015. “Most visits are trouble-free,” it said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana played down the British advisory, saying it was nothing unusual.
“The British advisory is an automatic and default warning of governments to their nationals like we also do when these things happen in other countries,” Lorenzana said.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Manila condemned the recent bombing in Cotabato. “We offer condolences to the loved ones of the victims and hope for a quick recovery for the injured,” it said in a statement.
A ranking military official said Wednesday intense disagreements over the BOL could be behind the Cotabato blast, but said they have not ruled out possible extortion by communist rebels.
Close to 2.8 million voters are expected to cast their votes during the BOL plebiscite on Jan. 21, 2019 in the areas of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Isabela City in Basilan and Cotabato City.
Separate voting will be held on Feb. 6, 2019, for those residing in Lanao del Norte, except Iligan City and six North Cotabato municipalities.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal assured the public that security forces are doing everything they can to prevent a repeat of the blast in Cotabato City.
Police have formed a special task group to speed up the investigation of the mall bombing.
Chief Supt. Eliseo Tam Rasco, police director for Region 12, said the task group in coordination with the military and other security agencies, is looking at all possible angles and motives behind the
Dec. 31 bombing in front of South Seas Mall.
“I admit the suspects slipped past our tight security,” Rasco told reporters here Tuesday.
The special task group South Seas is headed by Senior Supt. Oliver Enmodias, PRO-12 deputy regional director for operations.
Rasco said while the task group is looking at possible retaliatory attacks by Islamic State-linked group, it is also looking at possible “destabilization” by a third group opposed to the holding of a plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law later this month.
In a statement, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. strongly condemned the bomb attack, describing it as a treacherous and a cowardly attack against humanity and the people of Cotabato City.
“In these trying times when our resolve to pursue just and enduring peace is being tested, I encourage everyone to practice sobriety and not be swayed to spread unfounded speculations relating to the incident,” Galvez said as he extended condolences to the families of the recent attack.
He described the incident as an “isolated case” and said security forces are on top of the situation.
“Let us not allow this incident to discourage us to unite and act as one in our collective aspiration to achieve just and enduring peace not just in Mindanao, but in the whole country,” he said. With PNA