Although officials from the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said in earlier reports that they have not seen any imminent or direct threat on the incoming visit of Pope Francis on January 15-19, security consultancy expert and SecurityMatters’ editor-in-chief Ace Esmeralda said there are still the usual safety hazards and security threats everyone should be wary of.
“The government will not admit any threat, of course, without risking the cancellation or discouraging attendees to Papal activities,” Esmeralda said.
Among the usual suspects he said that are threats to security during the Papal visit are the current enemies of the state like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the communist National Democratic Front, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) as well as the religious extremists and terrorists.
In a statement on December 19, the Central Committee of the CPP, however, issued a ceasefire declaration that will take effect on 12:01 am of January 15 to 11:59 pm of January 19.
“During the aforementioned days, all units of the New People’s Army and people’s militia are ordered to desist from carrying out offensive operations against units and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the various armed paramilitary groups attached to the Government of the Philippines (GPH),” CPP said.
“This ceasefire declaration is also being issued in deference to the upcoming visit of Roman Catholic patriarch Pope Francis which the Filipino people look forward to as an opportunity for religious celebration and to raise outstanding issues such as military abuses and violations of human rights and children’s rights, Hacienda Luisita and widespread landlessness, poverty and exploitation of peasants and workers, bureaucratic corruption and government neglect of calamity survivors and the poor,” it added.
Aside from the Papal visit, the declaration earlier included the holiday season’s celebration, which the CPP said coincides with its anniversary celebration on December 26.
The CPP said that while the declaration takes effect on said dates, all NPA units and people’s militia will stay in “active defense mode” and will take the option to engage against the “aggressive units of the enemy in self-defense in order to prevent them from committing acts of brutality and repression with impunity.”
But Esmeralda has this to say: “The NPA is noted for not honoring their own ceasefire declaration. What is the assurance that they have informed their smallest units about their ceasefire?”
Meanwhile, Esmeralda also mentioned other security threats during the Pope’s visit such as “lone wolves, copycats, and psychopaths.”
As for safety hazards, he identified the poor quality of our infrastructures and roads, but likewise said that the convoy of the Pope “will not be speeding through the roads like those of Obama.”
Recall that AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr. was quoted saying in various reports that they were more worried over the millions of people attending the mass at Rizal Park in Manila. He also mentioned the fact that the Pope loves to get close to people and everyone wants to go near him as well. Because of these things, guarding Pope Francis is a big challenge for them.
Esmeralda agreed that securing the Pope is more challenging, further comparing it to securing any head of state like US Pres. Obama and Pres. Aquino but “with a twist.”
“If the religious fervor of those devotees of Black Nazarene will be manifested by the ‘fans” of Pope Francis, then touching and mobbing him is not far out,” he explained.
The government also expects a much bigger crowd in the Papal visit than the past state visit of US President Barack Obama on April 28-29, 2014. To which Esmeralda said the government could improve its physical barrier system and crowd control procedures, taking cues from the Black Nazarene Procession on January 9, of which over a million of devotees attended.
Earlier reports also confirmed that Pope Francis will be riding a non-bulletproof vehicle, which Esmeralda said is “another challenge and one of the high risks, if not highest.”
Gathered reports said approximately 40,000 troops from the military and police will be deployed as well as bomb-sniffing dogs, snipers, and air cover will be provided to secure Pope Francis, the venues and routes of the entire event.
Human barricades and marshals will also be deployed for crowd control and prevention of possible stampede.
Constructed by the National Capital Region Police Office were concrete barriers alongside Roxas Boulevard and other routes of the visit.
The Presidential Security Group, meanwhile, will provide close-in security to Pope Francis.
No-fly, no-drone policies
Several airlines, such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, AirAsia, and Tiger Airways Philippines, also cancelled hundreds of domestic and international flights because all thoroughfares going to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport will be closed during the Papal visit. All travelers were advised to check with their airlines for said cancellations.
Esmeralda said the no-fly zone policy of Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) is necessary. “Same protocol when Head of States use the runways. One major reason is that we don’t have the capability of monitoring all aircrafts that pass over our airspaces. The no-fly zone ensures that only those engaged in the Papal activity is overhead.”
CAAP likewise imposed a no-drone policy during the entire scheduled visit of the Pope. Violation of both no-fly and no-drone will result to fines of about P300,000 to P 500,000, according to recent reports.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) also declared several areas as “Firearms Free Zones.”
According to its official statement, it “will strictly enforce a prohibition on the carrying of firearms in all areas of activity during the 5-day Apostolic Visit of His Holiness Pope Francis as an added measure to ensure the safety and security of the national event.”
Areas covered by the prohibition are the following: Nunciature Area, Taft Avenue, Manila; Malacañang Palace; Manila Cathedral; SM Arena, Mall of Asia; Villamor Airbase, Pasay City; University of Santo Tomas; Quirino Grandstand; Tacloban City; and Palo, Leyte.
The gun ban also includes itineraries to and from said areas that the official entourage of the Pope will take.
In a memorandum issued last Thursday, PNP Officer-in-Charge and Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina directed all Police Regional Directors in Metro Manila and in Eastern Visayas to “strictly observe and implement certain provisions of RA 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Law and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).”
Espina cited the provisions in Section 7.12 of the IRR stating that “firearms shall not be brought inside places of worship, public drinking and amusement places and all other commercial or public establishments.”
He further said that firearms display is prohibited and instead must be concealed always, and that firearms must be secured inside the motorcycle or vehicle compartment.
Said prohibition applies to all gunholders, including those with Permit to Carry Firearms Outside of Residence as well as members of the AFP, PNP, and other law enforcement agencies in civilian attire.
MMDA to wear diapers
Meanwhile, traffic enforcers and other personnel tasked to handle crowd control will wear adult diapers to ensure that they stay on duty despite a call of nature, officials from the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) confirmed in several reports last week.
But police officers included in the security detail of the Pope will not follow suit, PNP spokesman CSupt. Wilben Mayor said.
Esmeralda said requiring the MMDA personnel to wear diapers is “one practical way to ensure those on duty stay on post.”
He however added: “But still quite a “cultural and social” matter because diapers are associated with babies and senior adults who can’t go to toilets on their own. Such public pronouncement, even on matters like this diaper wearing, shows there could be no system of relievers and personal discipline.”
Beef up security and safety
Secretary Mar Roxas of the Department of Interior and Local Government said in reports that safety of devotees, who are expected to flock the venues, is included in the government’s security preparations. He said they will triple the preparations done in previous major events to ensure safety and security of the people.
Other reports also said that Pres. Aquino was not yet completely satisfied with the security preparations at hand and advised his officials to enhance plans for the event.
Esmeralda said that besides the preparation and prevention measures, it is also important to address how well-prepared the country is “to cope with any untoward incident.”
“I hope that the security leaders factor in the implications of intervening “epal” politicians and grandstanding government officials,” he also said.
Regardless of the challenges the Philippine government faces today in its preparation for the event, Esmeralda still believes that the country can address whatever challenges the Papal visit entails.
“I believe that our AFP and PNP have enough trained intelligent members who will go through all possibilities and details,” he said.