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MANILA - (UPDATE, 10:20 a.m.) Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Nicanor Bartolome revealed on Monday that terrorists have been spotted in Metro Manila since August 2011.
And while their target is not exactly the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene, police decided to increase security measures due to the big crowd expected to join in the procession. Police estimate 9 million people to join in the annual celebration which lasts the whole day.
Bartolome, in an interview, said that "six to nine" terrorists coming from Mindanao have been spotted around Metro Manila supposedly plotting terrorist activities. However, he declined to name which group these people are affiliated to.
"We need to be sure because usually they transfer from one group to the next," he said.
But he said police are studying the people's links to the recent bombing attempts in General Santos City and Cotabato City.
"This should be a cause for additional concern because many people are expected to converge for the celebration," Bartolome said.
"We will do everything we can to protect our citizens," he added.
Bartolome confirmed that they made a request Sunday to telecommunication companies to disrupt signals to prevent these to be used by terrorists.
Globe Telecom, in an advisory posted on its Twitter account, said that temporary loss of signal is expected "to protect the public."
"The probability to use the cellphone to initiate an attack is always there," Bartolome said.
On Sunday, Metro Manila police were placed on full alert and additional security augmentation were made from the Coast Guard.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the alleged terrorists were composed of two small groups all from Southern Mindanao. At least one of them came from Marawi City.
The government has doubled its efforts to locate the terrorists, conducting raids in at least three safehouses in Manila and Rizal over the weekend. One of the raid was in Baseco compound in Tondo. The raids yielded negative results.
"The Quiapo feast is a very big target. There is a big possibility to create pandemonium," Gazmin told reporters.
The groups have possible links to the Abu Sayyaf Group or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Special Operations Group.
It was also possible the groups would be assembling the bombs here.
Gazmin appealed to the public to remain vigilant especially on suspicious people or things left unattended.
"All threats are taken seriously," he added.