MANILA, JUNE 3, 2013 (PHILSTAR) EDITORIAL - Many foreign governments issue travel advisories, informing their citizens about the peace and order situation and potential threats to their safety around the world.

The advisories are regularly updated, based on different levels of reliability of the intelligence information gathered. Travelers can ignore warnings of security threats at their own risk.

The US embassy in Manila, in its latest update, warned of a threat by terrorists to kidnap foreigners for ransom in the Zamboanga peninsula. The US warning was followed by similar advisories from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Similar alerts have been issued in recent months, with the threats not materializing. Perhaps the warnings helped, or the intel was unreliable.

The world is a dangerous place; serious security threats exist in every country.

The US is the top target of every terrorist, including some homegrown ones. Bombs have been set off in European capitals.

And yet these countries continue to be top travel destinations.

What sets off countries is their response to security threats. Some governments respond faster and more efficiently to threats, implementing measures that tend to make visitors feel safe.

Security measures are tightened for mass transportation by air, land and sea. Terror plots are foiled and suspects caught, convicted and sent to prison. Conspiracies are broken up and participants apprehended.

The Philippines need not worry about negative travel advisories as long as the country can reassure both Filipinos and foreigners of their safety.

This cannot be guaranteed in certain parts of the country where armed conflict and lawlessness reign, and where several foreigners are still held captive by bandits.

In such cases, the second option is to speed up the safe release of the captives.

The best response to negative travel advisories is to show that all effort is being made to neutralize security threats.


US, UK, Australia travel warnings: Avoid Zambo, other parts of Mindanao Michaela del CallarMay 29, 2013 5:10pm

[US servicemen assist freed Australian national Warren Richard Rodwell after he gets off a helicopter inside a military camp in Zamboanga City on Saturday, March 23. Rodwell was held captive for 15 months after he was taken by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits from his home in the southern Philippines. Reuters/Western Mindanao Command ]

MANILA - The United States has advised its citizens not to travel to Zamboanga and US government personnel in the area have been relocated due to a “credible threat” of a kidnap for ransom plot against foreigners.

An Emergency Message to U.S. Citizens issued on Wednesday by its embassy in Manila called on “all American citizens residing in or planning to travel to the Zamboanga area to re-evaluate their personal safety situation and consider postponing travel to this area at this time.”

“The U.S. Embassy wishes to alert U.S. citizens that a credible threat of a terrorist kidnapping- for-ransom (KFR) plot against foreigners has been identified in the Zamboanga area on the island of Mindanao,” it said.

Incidentally, US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. visited Zamboanga City on Wednesday for the launching of a USAID project.

According to an embassy source, the visit is "probably" his last in Mindanao, as his four-year tour of duty to the Philippines ends in July.

In Cedric Castillo's report earlier on GMA News TV's "News to Go," at least four US soldiers accompanied Thomas in Zamboanga City.

An encounter on May 25 between soldiers and members of the bandit group Abu Sayyaf in Sulu province left seven Marines dead.

US advisory

In the advisory, the embassy said U.S. government personnel already in Zamboanga have been directed to relocate to a secure area. The emergency message is set to expire on June 12.

U.S. government employees planning to travel to Zamboanga have also been directed to defer their travel at this time, the notice said.

“The Embassy wishes to remind all U.S. citizens to remain vigilant and maintain an appropriate level of personal security in all circumstances by reviewing your personal safety plans; remaining aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitoring local news sources for updates,” it said.

GMA News Online has sought comment from Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the advisory but has yet to receive a reply as of this posting.

An estimated 400,000 American citizens, which would include naturalized citizens of Filipino origin, are living and working in the Philippines.

Washington has long expressed concern about the presence of terrorist groups in the Philippines, specifically the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group and the Jemaah Islamiyah in Mindanao.

It has warned its citizens in the past from traveling to the country and other parts of Mindanao and to avoid public areas like ship and bus terminals, places of worship, and shopping malls that have been the target of attacks in the past.

UK, Australia issue warnings

The United Kingdom and Australia have joined the US and advised their nationals not to travel to parts of Mindanao due to the threat of kidnappings.

In a May 29 update of its foreign travel advice on the Philippines, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised its nationals "against all travel to southwest Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of ongoing terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups."

Also, it cited a "kidnap threat against foreigners in Zamboanga," with the FCO advising nationals "against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reasons."

Citing data from Philippine tourism authorities, the UK FCO said 113,282 British nationals visited the Philippines in 2012, with most visits being "trouble-free."

Meanwhile, Australia reiterated its advice to its nationals against traveling to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula and Sulu archipelago.

The Australian government pointed out that the kidnapping threat was “throughout the Philippines”, though it was particularly so in the southern Philippines.

"We continue to strongly advise you not to travel to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula and Sulu Archipelago, due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, violent crime and violent clashes between armed groups. We continue to advise you to reconsider your need to travel to western Mindanao," it said in its update to a May 24 advisory.

The advisory also said, “Terrorist attacks could occur at anytime, anywhere in the Philippines, including in Manila.”


Meanwhile, Maj. Ramon Zagala, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Public Affairs Office, told reporters that the AFP respects the travel advisory.

He also said it is "appropriate" for any country to protect the safety and well-being of its people.

"With or without this travel warning, the AFP will continue to be firm in our commitment to protect Filipinos and foreign citizens visiting our country," Zagala said.

"We are vigilant and will continue to monitor the security situation in the country, particularly in Mindanao. Our intelligence gathering and network sharing with other law-enforcement agencies, particularly the PNP, are in place to prevent any untoward incidents that may threaten the peace and stability of our country," he also said. - with Gian C. Geronimo/DVM/VVP/ELR, GMA News

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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