Philippines travel advice

Police and military authorities in North Cotabato have remained on heightened alert weeks after the bloody Mamasapano carnage in Maguindanao where Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” was killed.

Army Colonel Audie Edralin, commander of the 7th Infantry Battalion based in Pikit, said soldiers have been on alert on thwart bombing attempt by recruits of Marwan and his Filipino aide Abdul Basit Usman. Usman was seriously wounded in the Mamasapano operation but managed to escape along with about 15 armed followers.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Toto Mangudadatu said Usman was still in Maguindanao and highly mobile to avoid detection by authorities.

He appealed to Moro villagers in communities where Usman and his men are believed to be hiding to report quickly to police or military authorities “so the bombings in Maguindanao and nearby areas will stop.”

“There is a possibility that bombers trained by Marwan and Usman will launch retaliatory attacks in populated areas to get back at the death of their leader,” Edralin told reporters.

After the death of Marwan was confirmed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, police and Army intelligence community had monitored movement of suspected bombers out to sow terror in North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Pikit was among the target, the Army colonel said. In fact, two suspected bombers were killed in Pikit three days after Mamasapano incident when the improvised bomb they were carrying prematurely exploded.

This intelligence information was corroborated by the local police.

Senior Inspector Sindatu Karim, Pikit police chief, said Asraf Mohammad and Jomar Palaguyan, both of Pikit, were student-recruits of Marwan and Usman.

The two were blasted to death on the night of January 28 while on board a Baja motorcycle along Manuel Quezon Avenue in Pikit town proper.

Witnesses said Asraf, 28, was driving the motorbike and back rider Palaguyan, 29 was carrying a box on his lap when it suddenly exploded at 6:20 p.m., throwing the duo off the motorcycle.

“I was shocked seeing mangled body,” said witness Cesar Eleuterio, 34, who was on his way to the convenience store when the blast happened. “I felt strong wind coming to me right after the blast,” he said.

Karim said bomb experts recovered fragments of 60-mm mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism at the blast site.

Karim also said the incident was also related to the death of suspected bomber during anti-drug buy bust operations two weeks ago.

Police remained on heightened alert here as more cops were deployed at the town public market.