By LITO RULONA
and NITZ ARANCON
CAMP Alagar stepped up security measures in northern Mindanao even as it moved to track down members of the Maute Group who may have sneaked out of strife-torn Marawi City to seek refuge in various places in Region 10.
Supt. Lemuel Gonda, Camp Alagar spokesman, said the police in the region has gone on “double red alert” since the arrest of suspected Maute Group bomb expert Mohammad Noaim Maute in Sitio Sta. Cruz, Barangay Macasandig, this city, on Thursday morning.
Maute, who hails from Butig, Lanao del Sur, was brought to the regional office of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Camp Evangelista.
“Our assumption right now is that there will be a diversionary attack in key cities like Cagayan de Oro or within northern Mindanao. But despite the threat, business as usual gihapon kita. Alerto lang,” he said.
Gonda said Maute turned out to be a relative of terrorist group leaders Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, and he was involved in the Marawi siege.
He said Maute then mingled with evacuees and managed to leave Marawi using a fake student ID that bears the name “Alfaiz P. Mamintal.”
Here, Gonda said, Maute introduced himself as an Islamic teacher.
Gonda said Maute spent his first days in Cagayan de Oro, moving from one hotel to another.
Chief Supt. Agripino Javier, police director for northern Mindanao, however downplayed the Maute Group threat, saying that authorities were on top of the situation, and that Cagayan de Oro and the region are safe.
But in order to keep it that way, Javier said, authorities need citizens to be vigilant and to provide them with useful information.
“Hindi pa tayo nakakasiruro kung merong nakakapuslit pa dahil kagaya ng information na nakuha namin, talagang merong mga nakaalis na ng Marawi, yung iba tumatakas,” said Javier.
Javier has also ordered investigators to look into the extent of the participation of the owner of the house in Macasandig where the 22-year old Maute stayed, and see if the owner can be held liable or not.
He said members of the Martial Law Special Action Group who arrested Maute did not search the Macasandig house because its owner was not in martial law administrator and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s arrest order.
Javier did not reveal the name of the house owner.
The Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (Cocpo) said it has started barangay-based “mapping operations” in order to identify and profile residents.
Cocpo spokesperson Chief Insp. Mardy Hortilloza II said the aim is to make sure that members of the Maute Group have not mingled with evacuees and villagers.
Hortilloza said suspected members of the Maute Group were likely seeking refuge in cities and municipalities near Marawi City, including Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
He said the police have asked barangay officials for help.
Cocpo has also asked the city council to pass an ordinance that would compel barangay officials, subdivision developers and homeowners’ associations to allow the authorities to freely conduct security operations in their areas.
Even the local Roman Catholic archdiocese cautioned its members, urged them to be vigilant and cooperate with authorities.
Msgr. Precious Cabunoc, “Gawas sa pagbantay, kinahanglan gyud ang pag-ampo nga malikay kita sa disgrasya og kagubot.”
Cabunoc said security measures have been in place at the St. Augustine Cathedral even before Maute’s arrest.
He appealed to the Maute Group to spare Cagayan de Oro even for the sake of the evacuees from Marawi City who are here to seek refuge.
As of presstime, police counted some 4,918 Maranao evacuees in the city alone. There are evacuees from Marawi City in Puerto, Balulang, Iponan, Macabalan, Kauswagan, Pagatpat;
Canitoan, Patag, Cogon, Consolacion, Bulua, Macasandig;
Puntod, Indahag, Nazareth, Camaman-an, Cugman;
Bugo, Gusa, FS Catanico, Mambuaya, Carmen;
Barangays 31, 35 and 29, and at the Oro Jama-Ah Mosque.