Manila – While the Bali bombings on Oct 1 has sparked security alerts in other Southeast Asia countries, the Philippines is especially worried that it is next on the terrorists' radar screen. The Bali bombings followed reports that the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and the Abu Sayyaf are planning to strike in Metro Manila and other key Philippine cities during the Muslim fasting of Ramadan, which begins this week.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Director-General Arturo Lomibao, told reporters on Oct 2 that he had ordered all police personnel to tighten security measures around the country, particularly in tourist destinations.
Mr Lomibao said that Ramadan is just "incidental to the time frame of the attacks but some teams are already out to check on reports. Possible leads are being pursued".
The recent arrest of four terrorist suspects with improvised explosive devices shows there are indeed groups planning to sow terror in the country, Mr Lomibao added.
The four were arrested on Sept 28 at an army checkpoint in North Cotabato. Soldiers had searched a jeepney and found a bomb with a cellular phone as a triggering device under a seat.
Based on initial police reports, the suspects are JI-trained bombers. An army spokesman did not discount the possibility that the four suspects could be among the 10 alleged JI suicide bombers that are scouting for targets in Mindanao and Metro Manila.
The National Capital Regional Police Office chief, Director Vidal Querol, said he had ordered checkpoints on roads leading to Metro Manila.
"I have also directed all district directors to increase police presence on railway systems, malls, markets and churches, on days of religious service. There is also close monitoring of schools which may be targets," Mr Querol said.
However, he denied knowledge of any imminent specific threat in the metropolis. "There is no time, date, or place. This is the nature of the beast. This is the nature of terrorism. We are doing all these to upgrade our defences against terror."
The Abu Sayyaf , which has close ties with JI, is reported to have intensified its recruitment drive in recent months in preparation for more terror attacks in thePhilippines. The terror group has been blamed for several bomb blasts in the country, including the bombing of a ferry in February last year, killing more than 100 people.
* Bali attack raises fears RP is next (The Manila Times, Oct 3)