Alert on unverified terror threat unfair, says Davao tourism exec

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 July) – President Aquino’s order last week to City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to raise an alert over an unverified terror threat was disheartening and unfair and may affect the upcoming Kadayawan Festival, a tourism official said.

Last week, Duterte revealed the president had called him to raise a terror alert in the city.

Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of Thursday’s iSpeak forum at City Hall, City Tourism Officer Lisette Marques said the announcement had an impact because the order came from the president himself.

“When you release an unverified report and send one of your top officials based on an unverified report, it tells the public that there might be some degree of truth to it,” Marques said.

“We should trust our own security measures,” she added.

“So far, we have not been abandoned by our security forces,” she said, referring to the local police and the military’s Task Force Davao.

Marques added national officials may have mistakenly dragged the city as a main target of the attacks when it was asked if the attacks would hit Metro Manila.

“[The officials] were just clarifying that the attacks would not be in Manila, and that it was limited to Davao,” she said.

Asked what the immediate reaction was to the terror alert, Marques said “there were no immediate cancellations” of visits to the city.

But she admitted getting several queries from the private sector, especially those with offices outside the city.

“There were small cancellations like 50 pax (people) from small hotels,” Marques said.

No major events have been cancelled, she added.

She said the city was still expecting 100,000 visitors to the Kadayawan Festival in August.

Department of Tourism assistant regional director Arturo Boncato Jr. said in a phone interview that the agency acknowledges the situation but has decided to go for a more proactive approach.

“We have been dealing with the response from our own markets and called major players to convince them to still come over,” Boncato said.

He cited a group of Japanese investors who asked the department whether they should still come.

He said he assured them the agency will do everything to make their visit as comfortable as possible.

“As of today, Kadayawan is still a go, so we’re still working on that. Our obligation to the industry is inclusive growth,” he said.

“Proactive is the only way to go,” Boncato said in response to the unverified terror threat. “We should move toward quickly supplanting that perception of a threat.”

Meanwhile, Central 911 chief Emmanuel Jaldon said the city can expect the same level of emergency response that it is used to, with the department readily deploying at least 150 emergency personnel during the festivities.

Among these are the city’s mass casualty ambulances, which can handle several victims.

Duterte said during a press conference Sunday at the Marco Polo Hotel that events would not go beyond 10pm.

Councilor Al Ryan Alejandre, also speaking at the press conference, said that in an executive committee meeting on Wednesday the city police office assured them that activities such as the “Yugyugan” to be organized by television networks ABS-CBN and GMA could reach around 12 midnight.

The Australian government issued last June 29 a travel advisory against traveling to Eastern, Southwestern and Western Mindanao, citing potential terrorist attacks and saying “authorities in Davao City and other parts of Mindanao are at a heightened state of alert due to an unspecified security threat.”

The advisory said there was a “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 eastern Mindanao.”

“We continue to advise you to exercise a high degree of caution overall in the Philippines,” it added.

On June 30, the British government, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against traveling to Southwestern Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago “because of on-going terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups. The FCO advises against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reasons.”

The UK advisory also cited the government’s state of alert for Davao City because of “an unspecified security threat.”

The Canadian and US embassies have not responded to the national government’s terror threat, with existing advisories only citing the typhoon season in an advisory dated June 2 for the US and the Canadian warning to “exercise a high degree of caution” in travelling to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and its vicinity. (MindaNews)