PHILIPPINES - The government isn't taking lightly the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) to the Philippines, Malacañang said on Saturday.
So far, the military has maintained that IS has no direct ties with the Abu Sayyaf, which has threatened to behead one of two German hostages it is holding by Oct. 10 unless Germany withdraws its support for a US-led air campaign against the jihadist group that has seized large swaths of Iraq and beheaded Western hostages.
If at all, the Abu Sayyaf bandits are sympathizers of IS, joining the bandwagon to gain popular support, according to Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Even so, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Saturday, the authorities have been alerted to the possible entry of IS operatives into the Philippines, especially through the southern islands where the Abu Sayyaf operates.
Help from MILF
Speaking on government-run radio, Valte said the government was tapping the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has signed a peace agreement with the government, and civilians to gather and share information to foil the entry of fighters from IS, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
"[W]e assure you that we do not take it lightly. We don't wish to be dealing with another problem, and another trouble," Valte said.
"The good thing about this is, we're getting help from our Muslim brothers to ensure that none of these elements [will be able to] slip into the country," she added.
Valte said the government would verify with the military reports that France had raised its "vigilance alert" against IS to 40 countries with Muslim populations, including the Philippines.
France reportedly raised the vigilance alert after IS-linked militants beheaded French national Herve Gourdel in Algeria on Thursday.
Tighter entry procedures
The Bureau of Immigration has also tightened entry procedures for foreigners coming from the Middle East and Africa following reports that IS is recruiting fighters in Asia.
"We are not on red alert status, but we are paying careful attention to them," Immigration Commissioner Siegfrid Mison said in a television interview on Saturday, referring to possible IS recruiters.
By "careful attention," Mison said he meant the travel histories and plans of the passengers coming from troubled places in the Middle East and Africa would be thoroughly examined by immigration officers.
In case of doubt, he said, a traveler will be referred to a "secondary inspection," meaning closer interrogation.
"There will be more questions and it may take more time than usual," Mison said.
Mison said the immigration bureau had contacted international organisations to obtain a list of people associated with IS.