MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday warned tourists against visiting Zamboanga, citing supposed security threats in the area.
“There’s a certain place which I would not recommend to anybody to go there, not just as yet, is Zamboanga,” Duterte told Filipino and foreign participants of the 7th Union Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Pasay City.
“Some Europeans go there for the bird watching and they are captured and eventually they are decapitated even after the payment of ransom,” he added.
The President attributed the threat to Islamic State-linked militants and the Abu Sayyaf group.
“It’s the ISIS actually. It used to be the Abu Sayyaf. Now it’s an Abu Sayyaf territory. They do nothing but to kill and destroy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar sought to allay fears over such threats, saying the city has no kidnapping case since 2016.
"Sa tulong ng ating militar at kapulisan at ang ating mga barangay, nakapag-experience tayo ng zero bombing as a consequence of terrorism, zero kidnapping at also zero piracy," she said.
Instead, travelers continue to visit Zamboanga's tourists spots, Climaco-Salazar said.
"Ang Zamboanga Peninsula area ay isa pong lugar na tayo dapat magtrabaho upang maiwasan natin ang acts of terrorism," she added. "Kami dito sa Region 9, particularly sa Zamboanga, ay nagtatrabaho kasama ang ating kapulisan, militar, coast guard, Army, Air Force, Marines upang magkaroon po tayo ng kapayapaan lalo na sa mga banta ng terorismo."
Threats of Islamic State militants began with local terror group Maute, which pledged allegiance to ISIS and laid siege to Marawi City in May 2017.
The attack prompted Duterte to place all of Mindanao under martial law, which is set to end in December.
Duterte earlier said Islamic State extremists would "never" gain a foothold in the country.
- With a report from Chrisel Almonia, ABS-CBN News