AFP spreads biggest security blanket for Francis
THOUSANDS of soldiers, reservists and policemen will ensure that no harm will befall Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines next week.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday gave assurances that all security concerns will be sufficiently covered because 12,000 military personnel will be deployed. The Holy Father will be in the country from January 15 to 19.
AFP chief Gregorio Pio Catapang said the military will be mounting the biggest security effort for the Pope.
Admitting that the Pope’s visit is a security challenge, Catapang said “about 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers” will be deployed by the military, as well as around 5,000 reservists. These include thousands of ground troops and teams of snipers.
The AFP will also be using its air assets to provide protection to Francis, who is scheduled to arrive late in the afternoon on January 15 at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City (Metro Manila).
The Pope and his convoy will proceed to Roxas Boulevard toward the Apostolic Nunciature in Malate, Manila.
“About six to 7,000 [soldiers will be deployed], and we are also mobilizing the reservists, maybe about 5,000,” the AFP chief said.
He noted though that the Philippine National Police (PNP) will deploy a much bigger contingent.
The PNP earlier said the papal contingent will include the 328 soldiers from the 7th Philippine Contingent who were posted at the Golan Heights.
Catapang said sniper teams will be posted on six or eight high-rise buildings along Roxas Boulevard where the Pope will pass, while the air space would be off-limits to all aircraft except those providing aerial coverage for the papal entourage.
The same security preparations will be followed in Leyte province.
“It is a security challenge in a way but we can do it. We will just make do with available forces, we are in joint [coordination]with the PNP. The PNP will bring in the biggest contingent,” Catapang said.
He added that the military has not monitored any specific threat to the Pope but their greatest worry is the expected surge of people who will throng Rizal Park (Luneta in Manila) where the Pope will hold a Mass.
Catapang said it is possible that a member of a terror group may make an attempt against the Pope.
“It’s a concern but we are looking into all possibilities. We call that in the military ‘war gaming.’ “What if, what if, so up to the time that we settle everything, is it plausible, possible or can it happen?”
Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado said they will be providing aerial cover for the Holy Father and conduct security air patrols to ensure that all the routes where the Pope and his party will pass are fully secured.
Delgado added that the aerial cover will be provided in Metro Manila and in Leyte where the Pope will visit the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.
He said all available air assets in Metro Manila and the Visayas would be tapped for aerial patrol.
A PNP official who requested that he should not be named earlier said intelligence reports about a possible attack on the Pope should not be taken lightly.