US, UK issue terror warnings as Palawan governor declares ‘all clear’

Members of the kidnap and terror group Abu Sayyaf, pictured in 2015. File photo.

The American and British embassies in Manila have updated their travel advisories following a warning that Abu Sayyaf was planning a kidnap raid on Palawan.

At the same time, however, local authorities have downgraded their security alert, with reassurances that the island remains safe for tourists.

In a security alert issued today (Tuesday, August 14), the US Embassy said: “The Western Command Armed Forces of the Philippines posted the following information on their official Facebook page: ‘Western Command remains on heightened alert and continues to tighten its security posture in Palawan against all forms of threats, amidst circulating information on probable in the Province’.”

As a result, the embassy urged visitors to “Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings”, “Review your personal security plans” and “Monitor local media for updates”.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth office has also updated its travel advice. Alongside its existing warnings relating to travel in Mindanao and southern Cebu, it added the following warning: “The local authorities in Palawan have recently warned the public of a heightened risk from kidnapping; if in the area, you should follow the advice of local security and remain vigilant at all times.”

As we first revealed on Saturday, local authorities on the island, a popular tourist destination, warned that a cell of the Islamic State-affiliated terror group Abu Sayyaf may have already left its base on Sulu Island to launch a kidnap raid.

Then, yesterday, we also reported that the military was in a state of “heightened alert” and conducting security patrols at possible landing sites. 

Today, however, the provincial government of Palawan has downgraded its warning about the kidnap threat.

Provincial Peace and Order Council member Teodoro Jose Matta said after consulting with the police and military it had been decided to “lower the status”.

Speaking at a press conference in Puerto Princesa, he said: “Based on the information, the persons of interest that we were monitoring last week who are allegedly going to Palawan, have been spotted in a different area of operation and that the armed forces counterpart in Mindanao has been monitoring this group. The threat to Palawan has ceased.” 

Despite this, he urged local officials and residents to “stay vigilant and to stay alert against suspicious persons or activities”. 

Speaking at the same press conference, Governor Jose Alvarez said: “I hope these criminal acts will not happen to embarrass the province and to seriously affect our tourism.

“This is to assure that our tourists in Palawan are safe. If you look at it, there is no incident happening here. They [Abu Sayyaf] cannot simply enter without being intercepted.”

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