Two groups of visiting American tourists from Utah trust that Palawan is safe and secured despite the travel alert issued by their embassy earlier cautioning on proceeding with their travel plans.
They refused to give their names, but the first two female Americans who got down from a shuttle van that ferried them to the Honda Bay Wharf in Barangay Sta. Lourdes Friday morning, said they know how to keep themselves secure from any threat of kidnapping, and they rely on the military and the police to keep them safe.
“No, no, we’re not scared. We know how to keep ourselves safe, and there’s a lot of military and policemen we see around; this keeps as confident we’re safe here in Palawan,” one said.
In another group, a Utah man, who knows the Filipino language, was the one assuring his friends that the city and the province are safe from any terrorist threat.
He also did not give his name, but he said he used to work in a church missionary group in the Philippines.
“Oo, narinig namin ang tungkol sa travel advisory. Pero hindi ako natatakot, hindi kami natatakot dahil sa kanila (Yes, we heard about the travel advisory. But I am not afraid, we are not scared because of them),” he said confidently, as he pointed to the troops from the 3rd Marine Brigade (3MBDE), 4th Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT4), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and 2nd Special Operations Unit-Maritime Group (2SOU-MG) that comprise the Joint Interagency Security Task Unit (JISTU) that was conducting usual but heightened inland and seaward security operations around Honda Bay Islands in Puerto Princesa.
Ahead of them, around 100 other tourists composed of Chinese, Filipinos, and other nationalities, were also gathered at the wharf, waiting to go island hopping using motorized boats that were being dispatched by the Honda Bay Boatowners’ Association (HOBBAI).
In another part of the wharf, two canine units from the marines and the coast guard were seen on board a Dos Palmas Island Resort tourist ferry boat conducting clearing procedures.
On Cowrie Island, one of the tourist frequented island destinations in Honda Bay, Irish tourist Alie Monahan, who is from the west coast of Ireland, has heard too, about the U.S. travel advisory.
But Monahan said he is not worried because he doesn’t believe half of the advisory.
“I don’t believe half of what it says; I love Palawan, I enjoy it; I believe it is safe to visit any time, any day” said Monahan, who will be touring the province for a month.
With him in this month-long visit are three other Irish nationals, who even requested a photo with the security troops.
Nita Deifarine, a Filipino woman who holds a U.S. citizenship, was also on Cowrie Island with her relatives. She arrived in Puerto Princesa on May 1.
Deifarine has heard about the travel advisory, but she said: “I don’t care, we like Palawan,” she said as she laughs.
A relative of her, who was standing nearby even joked: “Ah, hindi kami maki-kidnap! (Ah, no we won’t be kidnapped!).”
Carlos Mereria, who is a “balik-bayan” from Dubai, was in Honda Bay too, with his family, when the JISTU was talking to the visitors and explaining the security procedure they are conducting.
Without misgivings, he said he considers Palawan “one of the safest places in the Philippines.”
“Yesterday, we were at the PPUR (Puerto Princesa Underground River), and wow, it was very nice! Security wise, it’s 100 percent safe. I can promote tourism. Palawan is No. 1 in tourism, and very good to visit,” he said, adding he was invited to visit the province by a friend.
Police Inspector Mylene Petalio, acting deputy commander for operations of the 2SOU-MG, said they invited the local media in their joint inland and seaward security operation to show that “life is normal” in one of Puerto Princesa’s most frequented sites.
“We have been doing this even before the issuance of the travel advisory of the U.S. Started during the summer vacation, then the Holy Week, and just extended,” she said, adding they also have an assistance desk at the wharf to assist the tourists.
On a daily basis, they also conduct canine units paneling, or a sort of cladding, to ensure no dangerous devices like explosives are in any establishment, boat, vehicles that come to the wharf, and the perimeter of the waterfront.
“This kind of operation may be done jointly, or take turns with the members of the JISTU to keep the bay safe,” Petalio said. They also do foot patrols are also regularly conducted.
“As of this time, we have no untoward incident, or received any information about unusual sightings of dubious personalities or movements,” she stated.
Petalio maintained that the number of tourists that go to the wharf for island hopping remains the same – “business as usual.”
“There were even times after the travel advisory came out that HOBBAI would tell us that the number of tourists are more than the boats they have available,” said Petalio. (PNA)