MANILA - Travel to Mindanao is "very safe", Malacañang said Thursday after a New Year's Eve blast prompted the UK and Australia to warn their nationals against travelling to the southern Philippines.
While it is natural for foreign governments to be concerned about the safety of their nationals, the Cotabato City bombing is "an isolated incident," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Two people were killed and 35 others were wounded when a bomb went off outside a mall in Cotabato last Dec. 31. A later inspection inside the mall yielded another suspected explosive that was destroyed by authorities.
"So far as the national defense secretary is concerned, it's very safe to travel to Mindanao," Panelo told reporters.
The main suspect in the blast is a pro-Islamic State armed group that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, authorities said.
The attack came weeks before a plebiscite in January that will determine the scope of the Bangsamoro autonomous region, created as part of peace deal between Manila and the MILF in 2014.
The southern part of the largely Catholic Philippines has been rocked for decades by violent Muslim separatist insurgent groups including militants linked to IS.
More than 100,000 lives have been claimed by the rebellion, according to a government count.
The region has also suffered from banditry, bloody feuds between powerful clans and communist guerrilla activity.
In September and August, bombs went off in Isulan town, 77 kilometers south of Cotabato, killing at least 3 people.
Martial rule remains in place in Mindanao until the end of 2019 to quell terrorist threats. -- With a report from Agence France-Presse