U.S., Canada, UK warn citizens against travel to Palawan

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The Palawan underground river had been included in the New7Wonders of Nature in 2012.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 10) — The embassies of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have warned their citizens against travelling to Palawan following "credible information" that terrorist groups may be planning to kidnap foreign nationals in the province.

In a travel advisory issued Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy recommended taking precautionary measures when travelling to parts of Palawan, including Puerto Princesa City and areas surrounding the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

"U.S citizens are advised to carefully consider this information as they make their travel plans and to review personal security plans, avoid large crowds and gatherings, and remain vigilant at all times," the advisory said, adding that the advice is based on reliable information .

The UK and Canada have since followed suit, and released advisories on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Citing information from the U.S. advisory, the UK asked citizens to "carefully consider travel plans, and exercise heightened vigilance in these areas."

Canada also warned against all travel to the Sulu Archipelago and through the southern Sulu Sea, including the waters off southern Palawan Island.

"Boaters in waters around Mindanao and in the Sulu Sea, as well as visitors to southern Palawan Island, southern Negros Island or Siquijor Island, may also face an elevated threat of kidnapping," it said.

Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez said the local government has not monitored any terror threats but it is prepared for any scenarios.

In an interview on CNN Philippines' Balitaan, he said tourists will be safe as long as they stick to groups and refrain from venturing to far-flung areas alone.

Alvarez advised tourists and residents to keep in close contact with authorities if needed, assuring them that rescue and military teams are on duty in crowded areas.

He added the local government has resources to deal with emergencies, including a reportorial system to monitor any suspicious activity.

These include a rescue hotline (165), a helicopter, airplanes, land-based units, and high speed boats.

"Nandun rin ang ating military backup na hindi mo makikita, ngunit nasa likod lang sila. So para sa mga gusto gumawa ng gulo, ay medyo mag-ingat din sila dahil nakaalerto na lahat ang pwersa dito sa Palawan," Alvarez said.

[Translation: Our military backup is also there, although they'll stay in the background. For those who plan to make trouble, be wary because all forces in Palawan have been alerted. ]

The management of the iconic Palawan tourist spot, the underground river, has since assured visitors that necessary steps are being undertaken to ensure the safety of guests and the community around the site.

On Tuesday, the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) management issued an official statement on its preparedness against terrorism following the release of the U.S. advisory.

"We have already coordinated with the authorities, both the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the police, to be on heightened alert," Park Superintendent Elizabeth Maclang said.

The AFP Western Command will also convene an inter-agency group composed of stakeholders to meet on the issue today.

AFP: Authorities will ensure tourists' safety

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has also given out alerts to its units-- particulary in Palawan.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Armed Forces of the Philippines Spokesperson B/Gen. Restituto Padilla said Wednesday the military will ensure the safety of all tourists in the area.

"Rest assured our authorities in this area are aware and are leaning forward to ensure that our citizens and our foreign guests who travel to these favorite destinations are protected and secured," Padilla said.

In a separate statement issued Wednesday, the AFP said it has not monitored any threat specific to Palawan and did not provide the information in the U.S. advisory, but is taking the report seriously.

Padilla said recent terror scares in other tourist areas in the Philippines have prompted local governments, along with the police and the military, to take a proactive stance against such threats.

"If you may recall there were reports also that there could be attempts in Coron but there were none. We have kept all these proactive measures aligned and I guess the meeting today in Palawan will get the supporting activity to all that previous preparations that we've made," he said.

He admitted, however, that pressure from successful military operations in terrorist havens may prompt terrorist groups to create scenarios to divert attention from them.

In light of this, Padilla advised both local and foreign tourists to be alert and vigilant of their surroundings.

"Vigilance is a very big part of how we can prevent these kinds of activities from happening because it allows a proactive stance on potential attacks or activities that may hurt people or create chaos in certain areas," he said.

Padilla urged residents and tourists to alert authorities of any suspicious people or packages in sight.