It came as a shock when the United States Embassy in the Philippines issued a travel advisory warning for the Central Visayas region. The area is known for pristine, white sand beaches and minimal crime rates. As such, terrorism of any form was virtually unheard of. Hence the travel warning was taken with a grain of salt by some sectors, even being downplayed by the military.
Then came the morning of April 11, when news broke that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was engaged in an armed encounter with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the island of Bohol. The aftermath saw 10 people dead, six came from the side of the bandits while the three soldiers and one policeman also perished.
The province is a known tourist destination where one can find the famed Chocolate Hills as well as being the home of the marsupial, tarsier. To hear of news that terrorist activity was happening in this island dumbfounded many. According to reports, several armed men were on board two pump boats near the rural municipality of Inabanga – all the way from Mindanao.
Knowing that armed men are able to roam freely along the different islands is a concern, the Philippine Coast Guard exists for a reason. Our green-water security force should be able to contain the terrorists who operate mainly in the Mindanao region.
The fact that the terrorism spread to Visayas is equally concerning, the only threats concerning this area were typhoons. The low crime rate and non-existent terrorism in this part of the Philippines made it the premier tourist destination for many, but that status is threatened with the recent development.
Now the neighboring provinces of Negros Oriental and Siquijor have also raised their terror alert status, bracing for a possible attack. Again, these are locations where terrorist attacks were unlikely not long ago. As previously reported, IS members were also spotted in the upscale Bonifacio Global City – a place known for high-end retail outlets but never for terrorism.
It seems as though the terrorist factions operating in the country have expanded their operations, being present in areas previously untouched. This could either be a sign of an increase in resources or a declining security presence.
Either way, the recent developments are concerning. Tourism is a vital industry for the affected regions, if these threats persist their local economies could be seriously devastated. At the same time the government needs to give terrorism, particularly the Abu Sayyaf, a serious look. The spate of kidnappings, the several executions of the past year and now their excursion to a once-peaceful province all indicate their increased strength. If that’s the case, this encounter in Bohol is only their opening salvo.