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Task group securing Negros Oriental, neighboring seas amid terror threat

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The commander of the Joint Task Group Deter of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday assured the public of round-the-clock maritime and coastal patrols in the seas off southern Negros Oriental and neighboring areas.

Philippine Navy Capt. Jorge Ibarra gave the assurance as President Rodrigo Duterte recently ordered to secure the waters between Dipolog in Zamboanga del Norte in Mindanao and Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental, to prevent terrorist groups from spilling over their atrocities in Marawi City.

Ibarra said that even before the President’s pronouncement, they have already been carrying out 24/7 seaborne patrols prior to the Inabanga, Bohol incident.

Ibarra chairs the joint task group alongside Lt. Junior Grade Donna Liza Ramacho, commander of the Coast Guard Dumaguete Station.

The areas currently being patrolled by Navy vessels include the southern portion of Negros Oriental, the seas of Bohol and Siquijor, Tañon Strait between the islands of Negros and Cebu, and part of Sulu Sea facing northern Mindanao under their jurisdiction, said Ibarra.

Without disclosing numbers, the Navy captain said there are enough Philippine Navy vessels guarding the waters between Dipolog and Dumaguete and outlying areas to ensure that local terrorists fleeing from government forces in Marawi would not penetrate the Visayas.

“We’re talking about 24 square miles of water here,” said Ibarra, adding that their sustained efforts are in coordination with other government security providers like the Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army, among others.

Ibarra added that all Philippine Navy vessels are not allowed to dock at any port but must be at sea at all times except for re-fueling or re-stocking provisions.

The Philippine Navy now has the capability of carrying out these functions at sea, with certain ships like the BRP Agta (LC-290), which recently docked at the Dumaguete port to pay a courtesy call on local officials, Ibarra said.

BRP Agta is an armed, logistics ship that performs multiple roles, such as re-provisioning another Navy vessel at sea, he added.

Ibarra said that while the Navy and Coast Guard are tasked to seal off the waters in this part of the region from extremist terror groups, they are also banking on support from civil authorities and local communities for information on the presence of suspicious persons and/or activities.

He said the fight against terrorism is not just the responsibility of government but of the civilian populace as well. (PNA)