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Philippines Travel Warning

Issued by US Department of State

Oct 24, 2002

This Public Announcement is being issued to provide updated information concerning the general security environment in the Philippines including incidents in the Manila area and Mindanao. This supersedes the Public Announcement for the Philippines dated August 20, 2002, and it expires on April 23, 2003.

A number of security-related incidents highlight the risks of travel in the Philippines. Kidnappings of foreigners, bombings, and other violent incidents call for Americans to exercise caution throughout the country. Moreover, as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, U.S. citizens and interests may be at increased risk of terrorist actions from extremist groups, as stated in the Worldwide Caution updated by the Department of State on October 10, 2002.

The terrorist New People's Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, operates throughout the Philippines and has recently issued public threats against U.S. citizens and interests in the Philippines. In early 2002, an American tourist was shot and killed by an unidentified gunman while hiking with a friend on the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga Province which is an area known for NPA activity. Although the Philippine government continues to investigate this case, it has not arrested or prosecuted anyone in connection with this crime. In June 2001, a group of American Navy personnel on leave and their guides were fired upon by an armed group in the same vicinity. Americans are warned to avoid hiking or camping in this area, and are advised to exercise caution when traveling in the Philippines due to armed clashes between the NPA and government troops in some areas.

A number of bomb-related incidents have recently occurred in the Metro Manila area. On October 18, 2002, an explosion on a bus killed three and injured numerous others. Earlier that same day, a hand grenade exploded at a main intersection in the Makati commercial area, and another unexploded grenade was found in the same vicinity. On October 16, 2002, a five-kilogram bomb was discovered inside a passenger bus on the regular route from Manila to Laguna Province; the bomb was dismantled before it exploded. Earlier this year, several bombs without triggering devices were discovered in Metro Manila. However, two years ago, 18 people were killed and over 100 injured in a series of bomb attacks in various tourist and commercial areas. In view of these incidents and the possibility of future occurrences, Americans are urged to exercise caution in public places and not to approach or linger in the vicinity of a bomb-related incident.

Several foreigners and Filipinos have been kidnapped by extortionists or other kidnap gangs operating in the Philippines. An American youth was kidnapped from his home in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, on September 12, 2002, and was held captive for four days; his abductors have not been arrested. Later the same month, a group of five foreigners and two Filipinos were abducted at gunpoint from a hotel in Pagsanjan, Laguna Province, and were robbed of valuables before they were released several hours later. Earlier this year, two foreign tourists were abducted in Mountain Province, Luzon, and held for five days while money was extorted from them. Family members of prominent local politicians and business persons have also recently been kidnapped in the Metro Manila area.

The terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has taken hostage a number of Filipinos, Americans and foreign tourists since April 2000. Several were freed after substantial ransoms were paid, some escaped or were rescued by military action, and some were killed. In 2001, the ASG attacked a resort on Samal Island near Davao City, Mindanao. Later that year, the ASG kidnapped three Americans and other tourists from Palawan Island in the southern Philippines; two of the Americans were killed and the third was wounded during a rescue operation after spending more than a year in captivity. The ASG has recently issued public threats against U.S. citizens and interests in the Philippines, and Americans have received threats of kidnapping from persons claiming affiliation with this group. Although the capacity of some elements of the ASG has been diminished by recent Philippine military action, the ASG or other groups may attack U.S. citizens again. Because the ASG has demonstrated its ability to travel long distances by boat to kidnap foreigners, it is possible that other locations in the Philippines could be attacked. Accordingly, Americans should defer travel to isolated beach resorts in the southern portion of the Philippines. Travelers may contact the U.S. Embassy for current information.

There have also been recent incidents of violence in central, southern and western Mindanao, including bombings in Zamboanga City, General Santos City, and near Cotabato City in Maguindanao Province, as well as bus hijackings on national highways. Several persons have been killed or injured in some of these attacks. On October 2,2002, a bomb exploded outside a café in Zamboanga City killing at least three persons, including one American soldier, and injuring over twenty others. On October 11, 2002, a bomb exploded in Kidapawan, Cotabato Province, killing eleven persons. On October 17, 2002, two bombs exploded in the main shopping district of Zamboanga City; at least six people were killed and over one hundred injured. Other explosive devices have been discovered and defused prior to detonation in these and other areas.

U.S. citizens are warned to avoid all travel to the central, southern and western areas of Mindanao, including Zamboanga City and General Santos City, due to incidents of kidnappings, bombings, and other violence and criminal activity. U.S. citizens should also avoid travel to the islands of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Jolo, located in the Sulu archipelago in the extreme southwest of the Philippines. Americans residing in central, southern or western Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago should carefully review their security posture, take appropriate action to secure their well-being, and remain in close contact with the U.S. Embassy for current information. As a precaution, the U.S. Government has restricted travel by official personnel to these areas and has withdrawn resident official Americans and contractors from these areas.

In view of these incidents and the possibility of future terrorism, kidnappings, and other violence or criminal activity, Americans traveling to or residing in the Philippines are urged to remain especially vigilant and to maintain a heightened security awareness. U.S. citizens living in or visiting the Philippines are encouraged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy, located at 1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila City; tel. (63-2) 523-1001. For further general information on travel to the Philippines, please consult the Department's latest Consular Information Sheet for the Philippines, which is available via the Internet at http://travel.state.gov.

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