By Christina Hermoso and Freddie Lazaro
The Minor Basilica of the Most Holy Rosary, more popularly known as the Manaog Church in Pangasinan, has been placed under tight watch to ensure the safety of pilgrims and churchgoers amid terror threats.
Rev. Fr. Anthony Eudela, prior of the popular pilgrimage site, said they are taking the leaked report on possible terror attack on key areas in Northern Luzon “very seriously” and have met with police authorities to ensure the safety of pilgrims and tourists at the Marian shrine.
“We took that information very seriously. We have to heighten the security measures we have. After we received the information, we met immediately with the local government unit, the Philippine National Police regional command, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to secure the church and its perimeters,” Eudela said.
“We joined forces and came up with plans to tighten our security not only in the basilica but in the whole town of Manaoag,” Eudela added.
The priest said police forces have been deployed in the area since the Jolo Cathedral bombing in January. “Holy Masses are held as scheduled. The atmosphere at the church is calm, and there is no cause for alarm yet,” Eudela said.
The government had ordered a tight watch on the church after a Northern Luzon Command memo showed a “possible terror attack” in several areas.
Nolcom identified Laoag City in Ilocos Norte, Vigan City in Ilocos Sur, Tuguegarao City in Cagayan, and Manaoag Church in Pangasinan as possible targets.
The alert came almost seven months since the Jolo Cathedral bombing on January 27 that killed 22 people and wounded more than a hundred.
NL leaders on heightened terror alert
VIGAN CITY, Ilocos Sur – Ilocos leaders and police officials are on heightened alert following the leaked terror attack threat in four places in Northern Luzon by suspected members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The military is validating the plot contained in a memorandum by Marine Colonel Glenn Celebrado, assistant chief of the Unified Command Staff for Intelligence of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) dispatched on August 2 directing all intelligence operatives to heighten intelligence monitoring, particularly in Laoag City, Vigan City, Manaoag, Pangasinan, and Tuguegarao City which were identified as targets of ISIS.
These cities are considered “crusader cities,” a term used by ISIS in describing target areas to fuel what they call “Bandar Crusade” or war between Muslim and Christian, while “Crusader Churches” is the ISIS term for all historic Catholic Churches.
Celebrado directed intelligence operatives to be on red alert on August 11-12.
Vigan City Mayor Juan Carlo S. Medina and Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Luis V. Singson allayed the fears of the residents and ordered the policemen and the army to do the necessary security measures to ensure the safety of residents in the province.
“We don’t need to be complacent but we need to be vigilant and resilient at all times to anticipate any terror attack in our city,” said Medina.
He urged everyone to help in safeguarding peace and order in the city as he advised them to report to authorities any new and suspicious-looking people in their villages.
Medina said they are not doing this because of a credible threat but to allay the fears of their constituents.
The mayor ordered the PNP to beef-up police presence in public places, government offices, and churches especially at night.
Ilocos Sur Governo Ryan Luis V. Singson ordered the police in the province to be on heightened alert.
Manaoag town Mayor Kim G. Amador of Pangasinan province urged residents to remain vigilant following reports of a terror threat on Manaoag Church.
Local authorities in the Manaoag, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and Cagayan have increased police visibility in churches and other public areas.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), through the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), will conduct an independent investigation on the alleged terror plot in Northern Luzon and Cagayan.