US embassy issues travel advisory on kidnappings in Philippines

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MANILA, Philippines–The US Embassy in Manila has warned Americans anew against the activities of kidnap-for-ransom and terrorist groups, particularly in Mindanao, following the July 12 abduction US nationals Gerfa Lunsmann and son, Kevin Eric, in Zamboanga City.

Alan Holst, acting embassy spokesman, did not comment on the kidnapping of the Lunsmanns, but noted the mission had “reviewed and revised our travel warning for the Philippines.”

The updated travel advisory, issued on June 15, “is posted on our embassy website,” Holst told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Last weekend, Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat told a press briefing that the kidnappers of the Lunsmanns had already contacted the victims’ family.

But Lobregat would not say if the abductors indeed demanded $10 million as ransom.

He said the kidnappers on Thursday spoke by phone to Hiko Lunsmann, Gerfa’s husband.

The 41-year-old Gerfa was born on Tictabon Island, a coastal barangay in Zamboanga City. She was adopted by an American couple as a child and grew up in Virginia.

She returned to the country to trace her roots and build a house for her family.She has visited Zamboanga City at least five times before their abduction.

Aside from Gerfa and her 14-year-old son, another relative, Romnick Jackaria, was also taken by the kidnappers.

In the latest US embassy travel warning, which replaced the one it issued on Nov. 2, 2010, the US Department of State said “kidnap-for-ransom gangs are active throughout the Philippines and have targeted foreigners.”

“US citizens traveling, living and working throughout the Philippines are urged to exercise heightened caution in public gathering places,” it said.

The Washington, D.C.-based agency also warned Americans against the “risks of terrorist activities,” particularly in the Sulu Archipelago and other parts of Mindanao.

According to the State Department, “terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could occur in other areas, including Manila.”

It also asked US nationals to “exercise extreme caution if traveling to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago,” saying “regional terrorist groups have carried out bombings resulting in injuries and deaths.”

In late 2010, President Aquino criticized the travel warnings issued by foreign embassies in Manila, including the US mission, saying they were not based on firm intelligence.

Months after that, a bomb exploded in a bus along EDSA, in Makati City, killing at least four passengers and wounding several others.  Nobody has been arrested for the blast to this day.

But in May, the Department of Foreign Affairs asked the US once again to lift its travel warning on the Philippines, citing “improved security conditions in the country.”

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