As of 17 April 2017, local authorities have reported that the security situation in Bohol is back to normal, though forces in Inabanga and other nearby towns remain on high alert, following a deadly clash between government security forces and members of the Abu Sayyaf Group last week.
The ASG have historically taken advantage of the Holy Week break, as it draws high tourist arrivals. Based on reports, local authorities believed that the terrorist group contingent led by Muammar Askali (alias Abu Rami) planned to kidnap tourists in Loboc and in Panglao, both considered prime tourist destinations for foreigners. Abu Rami, killed in the encounter, was responsible for the kidnapping and beheading of hostages foreign nationals in 2015. However, the quantity of materials for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) seem to indicate that bombing is also part of the terror plan considering the ASEAN Summit meetings.
Kidnapping and piracy by ASG’s Sulu faction ramped up through 2016 and early 2017 in the South Philippines, but their entry into Bohol marks their first attempt in years to hit a major tourist destination in Central Visayas. Bohol, in particular, attracts many local tourists and Southeast Asians, with a number hailing from France, Germany, and Russia.
It is believed that 10% of total tourist bookings was cancelled following the encounter—a blow to the area’s economy, considering the long-weekend break for the Lenten season. The clash with the ASG erupted a day after the United States, Canadian, Australian, and British embassies issued a warning to their citizens living in or visiting the Philippines, cautioning against travel to Central Visayas and alerting them of kidnapping activities. The U.S. Embassy, in particular, claimed that in their travel warning that they had acquired information that “terrorist groups may attempt to conduct kidnappings in Central Visayas, which includes both Cebu and Bohol provinces.”
Around 4,000 police officers and other key assets have been deployed in the Bohol, with checkpoint brigades set up in various locations, especially in areas frequented by tourists. Cebu authorities have likewise heightened security, particularly within terminals and ports. There is a standing reward of PhP100,000 for reports of suspicious persons and activities.
Cebu and Bohol will be the site of several 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit meetings through April. The meeting slated for 19 to 22 April 2017 in Panglao will be pushing through despite the terrorist activity in the area.
The clash saw six members of the Abu Sayyaf Group slain, including Abu Rami, and four members of the government security forces killed in action.