Monday, July 29, 2013

Philippines: Several Western Governments Advise Their Citizens to Avoid, Leave Mindanao

According to The Manila Standard Today, the UK, Canada and Australia joined the US on Thursday (July 25)  in issuing travel advisories for their citizens to either avoid traveling or leave specific areas in Mindanao for their safety against “threats of terrorism and kidnapping.”

In response to the travel warnings, Malacañang Palace (the official residence and office of President Benigno S. Aquino III)  quickly downplayed the series of travel advisories, carefully saying that the Philippine intelligence community is not aware of "any specific threat."

That being said, the reality is that most foreigners in Mindanao are regularly sought by kidnapping gangs and Muslim extremists. Those caught result in huge ransom demands that can easily approach US$1 million, although not always. 

According to The Philippine Star, the Southern Mindanao provinces of Compostela Valley and Cotabato to the Western Mindanao provinces of Sulu, Zamboanga, and Basilan criminal  lawlessness is the norm not the exception. 

Most recently, a restaurant in Mindanao’s northernmost city of Cagayan De Oro was targeted by bombers, killing eight persons and wounding 48, including Misamis Oriental provincial board member Roldan Lagbas, Manila physician Dr. Erwin Malanay and several medical representatives attending a convention of cardiologists.

The bombing in Cagayan De Oro placed into question the prospect of peace being achieved in Mindanao. Clashes between the military and the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan and between the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao and between the military and the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the NPA (New People's Army) in the Davao, Surigao, and Agusan provinces are a daily occurrence, putting into question the effectiveness of government security and intelligence elements.

COMMENT: The US Embassy had earlier warned of the security risks in the Zamboanga Peninsula, not to mention the entire area of Mindanao and the Sula Archipelago. 

The Sulu archipelago, specifically the town of Patikul, was the site of a recent clash between the military and an undetermined number of extremists belonging to Abu Sayyaf, which has been designated by the US as a terrorist organization. The recent engagement resulted in 16 fatalities, including seven soldiers on an exploratory mission. 

Last April, armed men abducted a businesswoman and her live-in partner before dawn in Zamboanga City. The PNP said the gunmen kidnapped the couple, later identified as Nancy Gonato, owner of Ocean World Marine Products, and her live-in partner, Ronnie San Sagon, from their exclusive wharf residence.

It should be noted that wealthy local business executives and foreigners are kidnapped with increasing regularity in Mindanao, yet fail to adhere to the advice of embassy representatives and Philippine government officials.