By Mar Arguelles and Connie Destura
LEGAZPI CITY --- The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Telecommunication meeting set at the Misibis Bay Resort on August 21 to 25 has been canceled because of security threats, according to a top official of the ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council (NOC).
Ambassador Marciano Paynor, Jr. said the cancellation of the event was recommended by the ASEAN Committee on Security.
Paynor, also the Director General for Operations, ASEAN NOC, in his letter to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the cancellation of the Ministerial meeting was primarily due to intelligence information gathered that the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (NPA/CPP), plans to launch violent activities in the region as an act of retaliation to the military force.
According to Paynor, the ASEAN Security Committee has been advised that the situation in Legazpi is further complicated by communication from NOC’s Information Fusion Center that 800 ready-to-deploy improvised explosive devices or IED have been distributed by the NPA elements in the neighboring province of Camarines Sur.
The security center further said the communist rebels’ plan threatens the ASEAN delegates during land travel from the Legazpi domestic terminal airport here to the Misibis Bay Resort in Bacacay town, the venue of the five-day ministerial meeting.
The distance from Legazpi Domestic Airport to Misibis Bay Resort in Bacacay town is about 37 kilometers.
Paynor said, “Due to the increased atrocities in the region it has been assessed that holding an ASEAN event in Misibis Bay Resort, in Bacacay Albay is too high-risk and unsafe.”
Last August 7 in Catanduanes, two policemen were killed while four others were wounded including a chief of police in two separate attacks staged by suspected NPAs in Barangay (village) Sagrada, Viga town.
In Sorsogon last August 9, two Army soldiers were killed while seven others were wounded in a clash between military troops and NPAs in Gubat town, the military said.
Reports reaching the Southern Luzon Command said that aside from the gunfight, the NPA rebels also used and planted landmines against the government troops.
The rebel attack coincided with the interment at the Casiguran Public Cemetery of ranking rebel leader Andres “Ka Magno” Hubilla and NPA member Miguel “Ka Billy” Himor.
The NOC decided to give priority to the safety and security of the ASEAN delegation and all its personnel, hence, it has been decided that the meeting be moved to Metro Manila.
In a Department of Interior and Local Government advisory received by PNA, it said that the ASEAN meeting hosted by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) was transferred to Marriot Hotel in Manila.
Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, in an interview Tuesday, said the cancellation is a sad development for Albayanos.
“It could have been a shining moment, it’s another setback for us but we cannot question that decision --- matters have already been stated, the security of these people are of utmost concern,” he said.
Rosal added he is still confident that Albay will host another prestigous event at the right time.
Rep. Joey Salceda posted on his social media account: “So sad. But we will try again. The holding of two ASEAN SOMs in Legazpi, Albay was a commitment to me by the DFA and ASEAN NOC together with DICT during the budget hearing last year. During our trip to Davao together with DFA Sec. Alan Cayetano, I tried to argue the assessment.”