Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa on Thursday said the entire country has been placed under terror alert level 3, a warning that a deadly terror attack is imminent “within a short period of time.”
Dela Rosa made the announcement as he presented to the media two men who were arrested for their alleged role in last Monday’s failed bomb attack near the US Embassy in Manila.
His statement also came after the military announced it had regained control of the municipality of Butig, Lanao del Sur, which had been occupied by the Islamic State-inspired Maute group since late last week.
PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos said terror alert level 3 is raised “when a terrorist attack is a strong possibility within a short period of time.”
The PNP chief advised the public to expect more checkpoints in urban centers and crowded places nationwide as a counterterrorism measure.
He said the heightened alert followed the Sept. 2 blasts that killed 15 people in Davao City that was blamed on the Maute group.
“[The people] should expect strong [police] checkpoints and the conduct of ‘Oplan Sita’ anytime. Some raids are being conducted by our security forces on suspected terrorist personalities and lairs,” Dela Rosa told a press briefing at Camp Crame, adding that the public should not be alarmed but should be alert.
“I am advising the public to be vigilant, alert, cautious and to enjoy Christmas,” said Dela Rosa.
Malacañang defended the high alert, saying the decision of the PNP chief conformed with the President’s declaration of a state of national emergency following the Davao bombing.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar allayed fears that the move was a prelude to the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus amid mounting opposition to Mr. Duterte’s ruthless war on drugs and the burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the heroes’ cemetery.
“We assure the public that there will be no disruption in their normal lives even if we have raised our security level,” Andanar said in a statement.
Andanar said there should be no change in how people conduct their daily lives even under a state of national emergency.
Andanar also said Dela Rosa and other PNP officials should not be held accountable for the attempted bombing near the US Embassy, saying “There is no such thing as perfect security.”
He said it was more important to note that authorities disarmed the homemade bomb “which could have wreaked havoc.” Following its Standard Operating Procedures, the police leadership “put the whole PNP in extreme alert for terrorists who might commit similar acts of planting bombs in Metro Manila,” Andanar said.
Benefit of the doubt
Sen. Leila de Lima, an archcritic of the President, said Filipinos should give the government and security officials the benefit of the doubt regarding their reasons for raising the terror alert “since we do not really know yet if there is truth to this and that they are telling the truth” about groups linked to the Islamic State planning such attacks.
However, she advised people to remain vigilant and discerning about actions of the Duterte administration officials because “they can be capable of lies and deceptions in graver matters as national security.”
The senator cited her experience where “they’re trying to create scenarios” by linking her to the illegal drug trade at New Bilibid Prison, with her former driver and lover allegedly serving as her bagman who delivered money from drug lords to her. She has repeatedly denied the charges.