The PH is under Terror Alert Level 3

What does this mean, and is it necessary?

Photo from the PNP-PIO

What does this mean, and is it necessary?

PNP Chief and Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa presents two arrested suspects involved in placing IEDs near the US Embassy, December 1, 2016
PNP Chief and Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa presents two arrested suspects involved in placing IEDs near the US Embassy, December 1, 2016

Placing the whole country under terror alert level 3 is the last thing you would like to hear at the opening of the yuletide month.

This announcement was made last Thursday by Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. He made the announcement while presenting the two suspects behind the failed bombing attempt near the United States Embassy, which was just one in a series of similar events.

Similar Improvised Explosive Devices

Last Monday, the PNP successfully detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) found in a trash can meters away from the U.S. Embassy along Roxas Boulevard. After this, a nationwide manhunt ensued: The suspects were caught in Bulacan last Wednesday, and were identified as members of the Ansar Al-Khalifa terror group alliance, which includes the Maute Group.

According to Dela Rosa, the suspects had planned on bombing Luneta Park, but disposed of their improvised explosive along Roxas Boulevard near the U.S. Embassy when they failed to detonate the bomb.

The suspects were seeking to gain recognition and funding for their group from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. They also wanted to divert the attention of the military from its offensive  in Butig, Lanao del Sur against the Maute Group, who were trying to take back their headquarters, lost earlier this year.

The Maute Group is also suspected of being behind the failed bombing of Luneta and the U.S. Embassy, because the materials of the IED were the same as those used in the Davao City bombing last September 2016, which left 15 dead and 70 injured. The Davao bombing put the country under a “state of national emergency on account of lawlessness.”

Terror Alert Level 3

After piecing the events together, PNP Chief Dela Rosa, in a televised press briefing on December 1, made the announcement: “naka-alerto na tayo, and ’yan na tayo sa level three” (We are on alert, we’re now at level three). When asked what the terror alert level meant, Dela Rosa answered that it was “police terminology” and urged the citizenry to be vigilant.

Police sources (wishing to remain anonymous) mentioned that terror alert level 3 means intelligence that terrorist groups are planning to launch an attack. Higher alerts are raised if the attacks are carried out.

PNP spokesperson Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos explained that based on the Terror Threat Advisory System of the Anti-Terrorism Council, an area wherein there is a strong possibility of a terror attack within a short period of time is placed under threat level 3.

What, then, is to be expected from a terror alert level raised over the country?

When pressed for details, Dela Rosa said: “more strong checkpoints. They should expect the Oplan Sita (random police checkpoints) anytime, and they should expect more raids being conducted by security forces on suspected terrorist personalities and lairs.” Checkpoints that President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier ordered removed will be restored.

In order to quell the public’s fears of a possible declaration of martial law or the implementation of the President’s threat to suspend habeas corpus, Malacañang assured the public that the amplified security alert raised by the PNP is intended to suppress terror threats and would not, in any way, disrupt the normal daily activities of Filipinos.

No Congruence with the Armed Forces

As the PNP raises terror alert level 3, which is one of the highest alert levels on their scale, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sees no need to raise alarm.

According to AFP spokesperson, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, who spoke to the press in Malacañang on the same day as dela Rosa made his announcement, the military has received no information to justify the raising of alert levels.

Especially since the PNP has managed to thwart the latest bombing attempt, Padilla said, they remain at white alert, the lowest in the AFP’s scale, below blue and red, which are raised when there is enough information to rule that there is a threat.   

It is ironic the military sees no need to match the high alert status, shows no alarm, and in fact seems surprised with the with the unilateral declaration of the PNP, when terrorism is a concern that falls within the spectrum of all security forces.

However the AFP is expected to and will most likely follow the narrative that has been set in motion, in order to show unity among the Philippine uniformed services.

Unity between armed forces, the police, and the citizenry will surely make for a safer holiday for all to enjoy, despite December’s rocky start.