Heightened alert in Central Luzon ahead of ‘Salaknib’ exercise–gov


IBA, Zambales—Governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. has called on law enforcement agencies in Central Luzon to maintain heightened security in face of the deployment of foreign troops in the region for military exercises between the Philippines and the United States this month.

Ebdane sounded the call during the first quarter meeting of the reorganized Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) recently, urging both civilian and military units of the government to anticipate situations that may threaten peace in the region during the visit of foreign troops.

Around 12,000 American soldiers will join “Salaknib” 2023 this month, which is touted to be the biggest training event between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military. The exercises will also involve live-fire training in the waters off Zambales.

Ebdane, who formerly served variously as chief of the Philippine National Police, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Adviser, was appointed last month by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. as RPOC chairman for Region 3, a post he previously held three times since 2010.

In the March 29 RPOC meeting at the Kingsborough International Convention Center in San Fernando, Pampanga, Ebdane said the council must have a forward assessment of the situation.

“Let us optimize utilization of government resources and let us think from the point of view of the enemy: What will they do to counter this deployment?” he said.

“Let us create a situation wherein criminals and security threats cannot exist,” Ebdane added.

Ebdane received a briefing on the peace and order program of the Department of the Interior and Local Government office in Region 3 during the RPOC meeting.

The Philippine Army also reported on internal peace and security, while the Police Regional Office 3 cited measures against criminality, and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reported on illegal drugs.

An officer from the 7th Infantry Division of the Army reported a “weakened” remnant of insurgent groups, and noted that the communist-led New People’s Army has not initiated violence in the last two years.

Still, clearing operations by government forces had yielded stores of arms and supplies in some remote areas, the Army reported.

Meanwhile, PDEA Regional Office 3 reported that it has uncovered large-scale drug operations in the region with shabu and marijuana as the drugs of choice.

It noted that mail and parcel methods are the primary mode of trafficking, while more and more drug dealers are using the “dark web” or online platforms for the illicit trade.

In reaction, Ebdane urged all concerned agencies to continue making reports on security and criminal situation so that the RPOC can estimate the volume or density of crimes in every district and undertake proactive policing.

Ebdane also mentioned as a special concern the cases of incestuous rape in the community, with current data placing a total of 137 cases in Zambales alone.

“The incidence is quite alarming,” Ebdane pointed out. “This should not happen.”

He said law enforcers should also tap for assistance other government agencies who have police authority to help maintain public order and safety.

Image credits: Henry Empeño