Tourists skip Palawan resorts; security tightened amid US alert
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — Travel agencies have been hit by cancellations of trips to Palawan as security was tightened in the province’s major tourist spots following a US Embassy warning about attempts by the Abu Sayyaf group to kidnap tourists in the province.
Security around the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) National Park here was tightened on Wednesday, as a reaction to the travel advisory released by the US Embassy warning of a possible terrorist presence in the province’s most popular nature destination.
The US travel advisory released Tuesday warned of a kidnapping attempt by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) on tourists visiting the PPUR, prompting local authorities to increase police and military presence in the national park.
“We have just received the information about the travel advisory issued… by the US Embassy in the Philippines instructing their citizens to express caution for a possible terrorist attack in areas within the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. We have already coordinated with the authorities, both the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the police, to be in heightened alert,” a statement issued by the PPUR management said.
The US travel advisory, which was echoed by the British government for its nationals traveling to Palawan, warned of “credible information that terrorist groups may be planning to conduct kidnapping operations targeting foreign nationals in the areas of Palawan province, Philippines, to include Puerto Princesa City, and the areas surrounding Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.”
The announcement triggered an abrupt cancellation of a scheduled visit on Wednesday of Philippine Military Academy cadets to the Underground River and Honda Bay. The cadets were in the capital to perform a silent drill exhibition.
Security around most of Palawan’s tourist destinations has been tightened since late April following the clash between Abu Sayyaf bandits and the military in Inabanga town in Bohol province.
The military’s Western Command (Wescom) based in Puerto Princesa City, in a security briefing on April 24, announced the formation of inter-agency task groups to conduct random checkpoints and mobile patrols in all major tourist destinations in Palawan.
But Wescom said local military forces have always been aware of it and that security precautions have long been in place.
“Even several months ago, even without reference to any travel advisory, the Western Command has beefed up our security posture for [the] tourist season. We see to it that we are always a step further on security,” Wescom said in a statement on Wednesday morning.
“We are all doing our very best, together with other agencies, in denying any terrorist groups entry and access in the high seas and coastal areas,” it said.
Wescom said inter-agency task groups in tourist areas like Coron, El Nido, Sabang, Honda Bay, Balabac, Bataraza, Rio Tuba and Brookes Point, among others, had been activated.
Local travel agencies have expressed concern about the immediate and potentially long-term negative impact of the Abu Sayyaf threat to tourism in Palawan.
May Libiran, a travel agent based in Puerto Princesa, noted cancellations of travel bookings to the province by foreign tourists after the US travel advisory was released.
“I just spoke with two other agencies and we have been getting cancellations. We have one arriving on the 21st. We were about to issue the ticket today (Wednesday), unfortunately we had to cancel the ticket last night,” Libiran said.
Asked how far the security threat could affect Palawan’s tourist arrivals, Libiran said they were anticipating a “major” impact because of the fear and uncertainty caused by the advisory.
“We are lucky if we can recover in a month’s time, but I doubt it – takot na ang mga tao (people are now scared),” she said.
Palawan was first targeted by the Abu Sayyaf in 2001 with a daring kidnap of some 20 foreigners and Filipinos from a high-end resort in Honda Bay, a security crisis that led to the beheading in Mindanao of three American hostages. SFM
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