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Friday, May 12, 2017

Palawan locals band together to defend province from Abu Sayyaf

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — In a bid to stave off a reported plan of Abu Sayyaf bandits to attack one of the country’s prime tourist attractions, hundreds of residents around the Puerto Princesa Underground River have signed up for volunteer patrols to augment security measures put in place by the military and local authorities.

A total of 228 volunteers, mostly boatmen, helpers and barangay officials in communities surrounding the park have signed up for the patrols under military supervision, said Jan Elmer Badilla, a spokesperson of the PPUR management.

“Also, park rangers have been conducting their own patrols to guard the entry points from the sea,” Badilla said.

Tess Austria, chair of the Sabang Sea Ferry Multipurpose Cooperative and one of the volunteers, said she wanted to join the patrols herself.

“We know that community participation is important, just like what happened in Bohol, to prevent terrorist attacks,” she said.

Austria was referring to the role played by community members in supplying information to authorities on the arrival and movement of a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits in Inabanga town in Bohol province last month, which led to clashes with government troops that killed several members of the group.

Reports said the bandits were planning to kidnap tourists in Bohol.

Volunteers have been using their boats, which usually ferried tourists into the national park, for patrols, Badilla said.

The military’s Western Command earlier beefed up security around the park, including the deployment of additional Philippine Marines personnel and the creation of a joint task force among several law enforcement agencies, following the release of a travel advisory by the United States Embassy warning of a possible kidnapping attack by the Abu Sayyaf on tourists visiting the Underground River.

Senior Supt. Ronnie Francis Cariaga, regional police director of Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan), inspected the Sabang wharf on Wednesday night and met with local officials to discuss security measures here.

Visits to the Underground River had begun to dip, and travel agents are bracing for a long-term negative impact of the travel restrictions.

“Yesterday (Wednesday) we were still fully booked, save for the cancellation of the scheduled trip of [Philippine Military Academy] cadets, and today (Thursday) there were a few cancellations,” Badilla said.

“Although we are doing our best to prevent this crisis from worsening, we are expecting that tourist arrivals will be affected. Worse, we will have an earlier lean season. We can just take advantage of this time to conduct training and seminars for the park staff,” he added.  SFM

By Redempto D. Anda

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