Coordination ‘weakest link’ among Davao’s law enforcement agencies – PNP chief

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Feb) – Law enforcement agencies in the city need to strengthen their coordination even if the local police force is 95-percent ready to handle crisis situations, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa said.

Dela Rosa voiced the observation in an interview with reporters after “Southern Storm,” an anti-terrorism and crisis management drill at the Abreeza Mall Davao.

He admitted that coordination was their “weakest link” but assured there is no letup in their preparation for any terror attack similar to the Marawi siege where government forces engaged Islamic State-inspired militants for five months.

Task Force Davao personnel secure emergency medical responders of Davao City 911 as they tend to a “victim” of a simulated bomb explosion, during the ‘Southern Storm’ simulation exercise outside a mall in Davao City on 28 February 2018. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Dela Rosa, director of the Davao City Police Office from 2012 to 2013, said law enforcers here are trained, prepared, and equipped to respond to any crisis situation but staging a simulation exercise (Simex) was necessary to strengthen coordination among law enforcement agencies, city and barangay officials.

“Ginawa ang Simex na ito, dahil nakita nating yung weakest link natin is coordination, ginawa ang Simex para coordinated lahat – interoperability ma-establish (We did the Simex because our weakest link is coordination, we did the Simex so that we can become more coordinated and interoperability can be established),” he said.

At least 10 government agencies participated in the exercises to “ensure a whole-of-nation approach in responding to crisis.”

The Special Operations Unit of PNP Aviation Security Group and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines simulated their response to a “hijacked” aircraft filled with actors as passengers, pilots and crew at Davao City International Airport.

There was also a simulated scenario on bombing incident, response to active shooter, hostage taking, dragnet operations, lockdown protocol, border security, counterinsurgency operations, and crisis management by the city with the Task Force Davao, Public Safety and Security Command Center, Davao Central 911, and barangays in different locations.

A fire drill took place at the Abreeza Mall. It may be recalled that the four-story NCCC Mall Davao burned on December 23, 2017 killing 38 workers.

Actors playing ‘terrorists’ take ‘hostages’ in a simulated terror attack at a mall in Davao City during the Southern Storm exercise to test the capability of responders on 28 February 2018. A number of residents raised concerns over the outfit used by the ‘terrorists’ particularly the man on the right as it profiles Muslims as ‘terrorists.’ MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, Philippine Air Force and the PNP Maritime Group conducted an exercise on maritime interdiction operation at the Davao Gulf.

“So far, from my end, the way I observe the proceedings, I was very much satisfied.  This was very comprehensive all possible manmade disaster that can happen in Davao were all covered.  Ang kulang na lang ay (what’s left is) natural calamity,” Dela Rosa said.

PNP Deputy Director General for Operations Camilo Pancratius Cascolan said there is a need to test the interoperability of the PNP with other government agencies, private sectors, and stakeholders to address the threats of terrorism and related emergencies to ensure that every personnel will know what to do under such circumstances.

“We do the simulation exercises for us to know our weaknesses and, at the same time, use our strength,” he said.

No more Marawi-like siege

Dela Rosa said the Islamic State-inspired militants could no longer launch another assault similar to the Marawi siege after suffering a heavy blow.

During the drill at the Abreeza Mall, he told reporters that they have received information that the remaining members of the Maute Group have been recruiting members “but based on our assessment they cannot launch a Marawi City-like siege.”

But he added they would still need to prepare to prevent a repeat of the Marawi siege, which erupted on May 23 last year.

Members of Davao City’s Special Weapons and Tactics team neutralize ‘hostage takers’ during the simulated terror attack on a mall in Davao City on 28 February 2018, as part of ‘Southern Storm anti-terror drill.  MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Last October 16, after nearly five months of combat operations, the military killed Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called emir of the ISIS in Southeast Asia, along with Omar Maute.

A day later, President Rodrigo R. Duterte declared Marawi liberated from the influence of the Maute Group. But it was only on October 23 that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the termination of combat operations in the besieged city.

As the President’s hometown, it’s possible that the city will become a target of terror attacks, said Davao City police director Alexander Tagum.

“After the Marawi attack and persistent threat coming form southern Philippine terrorists and knowing Davao City is the home of our President, we look upon it na hindi impossible na target nila ang Davao (it’s not impossible that they will target Davao),” he said.

“That’s the reason why they (PNP) picked Davao as the first Simex area to practice similar incident na kinakatakunan natin (we fear) for us to be prepared in the future,” he added.

Tagum urged residents to report to authorities any suspicious individuals so that the police can take appropriate actions.

Simex in Metro Manila

Dela Rosa said Southern Storm will be done in Metro Manila next month to prepare all law enforcement agencies and city and barangay officials to efficiently handle a crisis situation such as a terror attack.

He said they chose to hold the first simulation exercises in the city because “we know the threat here in the key cities of Mindanao,” adding, the Maute Group wanted to retaliate after suffering a setback in Marawi.

He said they are validating reports about the presence of 40 foreign terrorists in the country but they presume these are local fighters who went abroad and have returned.

A member of the Special Weapons and Tactics team holds his position in front of a shop display inside a mall during the Southern Storm Exercise – an anti-terror drill in Davao City on 28 February 2018. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“Mabuti umuwi dito para manahimik na lang dahil pagod sa Syria, Iraq, hindi mag create ng gulo kung mag create ng gulo that’s a very difficult situation (It’s good if they returned here to find peace because they have become tired in Syria and Iraq, not to create trouble. If they create trouble, then that’s a very difficult situation),” he said.

He said they will “act fast” once the alleged foreign terrorists are located. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)