MANILA, Philippines – A senior officials meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bohol will push through as scheduled this week despite concerns over the recent bloody encounter between security forces and Abu Sayyaf militants in a remote town in the province.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), through acting spokesman Robespierre Bolivar, said international delegates have confirmed participation in the meeting in Bohol hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
As this developed, tourism remains vibrant in Bohol despite last week’s violence, Gov. Edgardo Chatto said yesterday.
“We can confirm that the ASEAN meeting in Bohol will push through as scheduled, unless any new information dictates otherwise,” Bolivar said.
Bohol is hosting the 10th ASEAN and Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (AHKFTA) Trade Negotiating Committee and Related Meetings.
The DTI-sponsored ministerial meetings will be held at the Henann Resort in Panglao Island beginning tomorrow until April 22.
The “security committee of our national organizing council is continuously working to ensure the safety and security of the meeting,” Bolivar said.
Manila will play host to the 30th ASEAN Summit on April 26 to 29. The summit proper will be held on the last day at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
The Philippines chairs the ASEAN Summit 2017 and will also host the 31st ASEAN Summit on Nov. 10-14 in Clark, Pampanga. The country’s chairmanship coincides with 50th anniversary of the 10-nation bloc.
Meanwhile, Chatto said tourists were largely undisturbed by the recent clashes between troops and Abu Sayyaf militants, judging from the surge of visitors to the province during Holy Week.
“It’s normal here during the Holy Week. All the hotel rooms were almost filled up. From about 80, 90 to 100 percent occupancy in resorts – nothing has changed,” said Chatto in an interview over radio dzMM.
On April 11, security forces acting on intelligence information pounced on Abu Sayyaf militants on three boats led by Abu Rami in Inabanga town. The clashes left three soldiers and a policeman killed.
The militants were believed to be plotting another kidnapping.
Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos, spokesman for the Philippine National Police (PNP), said police forces in Central Mindanao have beefed up patrol and intelligence-monitoring in the region to stave off terror attacks and kidnapping.
Carlos said coordination among local government units, police and military forces has been intensified to prevent another attempt by the bandits to cross the seas to the Visayas.
“We are continuously guarding these areas. There is a regular monitoring in these areas,” he said.
As part of security measures, Carlos said several police teams visited Siquijor and Negros Oriental – particularly the coastal areas – to encourage residents to inform authorities of the arrival or activities of suspicious-looking men.
Residents spotted and reported the arrival in Bohol of armed men who stayed in the house of one of the local residents married to a woman from Mindanao.
Bohol, popular among local and foreign tourists, is home to the Chocolate Hills, the Danao Adventure Park, a tarsier conservation area and white sand beaches.
The province is not far from other tourist destinations like Cebu.
Chatto admitted some areas in Bohol remain on heightened alert as authorities are still on the hunt for suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters who managed to flee after the April 11 encounter.
Carlos said the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Air Force have also been tapped to help secure the coastlines of Central Visayas and Negros Island regions.
“It was also announced that air assets of the Philippine Air Force will be flying over these islands to secure the coastlines and monitor the movement of small sea craft,” said Carlos. “There’s a joint task force in Negros Occidental with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, even local groups such as Bantay-Dagat in Negros were tapped in this effort.” – Cecille Suerte Felipe
Tags: Abu Sayyaf, AHKFTA, Armed Forces of the Philippines, ASEAN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement, Philippine National Police, PNP, tourism remains vibrant in Bohol despite last week’s violence, Visayas