FOLLOWING the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, several countries have issued travel warnings and called on their citizens traveling to Mindanao to be vigilant or defer going there if possible.
That came to pass even as United States ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim expressed his condolences to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack in Marawi.
“My sincere condolences to the friends and families of the police officers and soldiers who lost their lives in Marawi in the name of democracy,” Sung said.
The US Embassy in Manila said it was aware of the martial law declaration and was monitoring the situation.
In its advisory, the US Embassy temporarily suspended all travel to Mindanao pending a better understanding of the situation there.
“While the US Embassy has no information that the event in Marawi City represents a direct threat to US citizens or US interests in the Philippines, we encourage US citizens to review personal security plans, avoid large crowds and gatherings and remain vigilant at all times,” the embassy said.
The embassy also said that its advisory issued on March 6, 2017, which indicates there is an ongoing threat of terrorist action against US citizens and its interests abroad, including the Philippines, would remain in effect.
“Extremists have targeted sporting events, theaters, markets, mass transportation systems including airlines, and other public venues where large crowds gather,” the embassy said.
“Crowded nightclubs, shopping malls, buses and popular restaurants have also been targets. US citizens should be mindful of the importance of taking preventive measures to ensure their safety and security while traveling and residing in the Philippines.”
Australian ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely advised her countrymen in Marawi City to be careful.
“If you are in Marawi City, remain indoors, exercise heightened vigilance and review your personal security plan,” Gorely said.
She said the Australian government through her office would continue to monitor the developments in the Philippines and follow instructions from local authorities.
In its latest travel advisory dated May 24, 2017, the Australian government advised its citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution” in the Philippines due to the high threat of terrorist attacks and the high level of crime.
“Monitor the media and other sources about possible new security risks. Seek specific advice for the locations you intend to visit,” the Australian government said.
Australia also advised its citizens to “reconsider” their need to travel to eastern Mindanao and “not to travel” to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and southern Sulu.
The United Kingdom also updated its travel advisory for their British citizens against “all travel to western Mindanao including Marawi City and against all but essential travel to eastern Mindanao”.
“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the Philippines. Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out attacks at any time and anywhere in the country,” the British Embassy said. “Attacks could happen anywhere, including in places visited by foreigners like airports, shopping malls, public transport and places of worship. You should remain vigilant at all times and report anything suspicious to the local authorities.
“Government officials said martial law measures would include the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the imposition of curfews and establishment of checkpoints.”
The Canadian government issued the same advisory on Wednesday.
“Global Affairs Canada advises against all travel to the Mindanao Region, excluding the urban areas of Davao City, due to the serious threat of terrorist attacks and kidnapping. The Government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance in this region is limited,” the Canadian Embassy in the Philippines said.
“There is no nationwide advisory in effect for the Philippines. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the threat of terrorism and the high level of crime.”
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippine government is in “full control”.
“The Philippine government is in full control and fully aware that the Maute Group/ISIS groups have the capability, although limited, to disturb the peace; they have shown no hesitation in causing havoc, taking innocent lives and destroying property,” the department said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross Co-Head of Delegation Pascal Porchet urged the government and the rebels to spare civilians and respect civilian properties such as hospitals and schools.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact of the ongoing hostilities in Marawi City on the civilians,” Porchet said.
The Philippines on Wednesday assured the diplomatic community that martial law in Mindanao was necessary to “suppress lawless violence and rebellion” by the Maute Group that recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
It made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte cut short his first state visit to Russia and declared martial law on Tuesday night when Maute group attacked Marawi City, killed several individuals who could not recite Islamic verses and burned public buildings and houses.
“In order to suppress lawless violence and rebellion and for public safety, it is necessary to declare martial law on the entire island of Mindanao including Sulu, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi for a maximum of 60 days,” the department stated.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Division Phil Robertson feared that Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao could bring further rampant abuses.
“We urge the Philippine government to ensure that the rights of all Filipinos are respected as it addresses violence and crime in the southern Philippines. Martial law is no excuse to trample on civil liberties,” Robertson said.