CEBU CITY – The Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) is on heightened alert status following a recent car bombing in Lamitan City in the southern Philippine province of Basilan.
Steve Dicdican, MCIAA general manager, said they have intensified security measures at the airport and its premises on orders of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade. Dicdican, who co-chairs the Department of Transportation-Regional Management Council in Central Visayas, issued a memorandum to all council members to prioritize the safety of the public by observing tighter security measures in their respective areas of responsibilities – airports, seaports, and bus terminals.
“Our facilities must be kept protected from any incident caused by inadequate security measures and lapses in our security procedures,” he said, stressing the need for inter-agency cooperation against any threat to public order and safety. “Our task necessarily includes protection of human lives and properties.”
Dicdican ordered the full staffing of all security shifts to ensure the strict implementation of the “Heightened Security Alert Status” and apologized to the travelling public for the inconvenience they may encounter at the airport due to the beefed-up security measures, which are necessary to safeguard the lives of the passengers from threats.
“The riding public is assured that this heightened security alert is not intended to inconvenience the public, but to ensure their safety with the least disruption on operations, such as flight schedules,” Dicdican said.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack that left over a dozen casualties. In a post on its Amaq News Agency, the Islamic State said a Moroccan man carried out the daring assault against Filipino soldiers in Lamitan City and has identified the executor of the suicide bombing as Abu Katheer al Maghribi.
“A martyrdom attack leads to 15 Filipino soldiers being killed in the city of Lamitan on the island of Basilan in the southern Philippines,” it said. Philippine authorities said 11 people were killed when a car bomb exploded at a security checkpoint after government militias stopped the suspicious vehicle in Bulanting village, about 2 kilometers away from downtown Lamitan.
The Philippine military downplayed the explosion, saying, there was no proof that it was a suicide attack despite several witnesses reports claiming witnesses had seen the bomber before he detonated his van.
Lamitan Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay, quoting a report, also said that the driver appeared to be a foreigner and could not speak the local dialect when stopped by soldiers at the army checkpoint.
The powerful explosion obliterated the vehicle and left a huge crater and among those killed were a woman and a child; and the militia commander whose unit is under the supervision of the Philippine Army. Five soldiers and several civilians were also wounded in the explosion.
Reports said the bomber came from a nearby town and heading to downtown Lamitan when his vehicle was stopped at the checkpoint.
Governor Mujiv Hataman, of the Muslim autonomous region, has strongly condemned the violence. He said a total of 11 people were killed in the blast. “We condemn this brazen act of violence against our people, and trust that we will exert every effort to help the families affected by this incident and we will strengthen efforts to secure our region without compromising the rights of the Bangsamoro.”
“We mourn the loss of lives in this senseless attack to our safety, and we continue to thank those who have devoted and continue to devote their lives to securing peace in the Bangsamoro. The commitment to rights and safety of our people that we share with them defines our collective efforts, and we continue to stand and work with them as we seek justice for those who have lost their lives to conflict and violence,” he said.
Hataman also downplayed claims by the Islamic State, saying, it was propaganda by the terror group. “Mahilig naman mag-claim mga yan. Mga yan mahilig din mag-propaganda. Hindi naman suicide yun kasi nasita,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
The province is a also known stronghold of the militant group Abu Sayyaf whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Several foreign fighters had been killed in clashes with soldiers in Basilan in recent years.
The Philippine military earlier urged the public to be on alert and stay vigilant at all times following attempts by pro-ISIS militants to bomb civilian targets in the restive southern region.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called on militants to talk peace and also promised amnesty and financial aid if they surrender to the government. (With a report from Luel Galarpe.)
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