THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intelligence community sees no specific threat against the life of Pope Francis during his scheduled five-day visit to the country early next year.
AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. on Tuesday said the absence of a credible and verifiable intelligence information about the threat on Francis’ life makes them more concerned of the faithful who are expected to mob the pontiff than armed groups.
Catapang’s statement came despite earlier information received by the Vatican that members of the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were out to assassinate the Holy Father.
“There’s nothing of that sort, there’s no threat. Our concern is he
might be mobbed, the people really like him very much,” he said.
The AFP chief, however, stressed that military intelligence units are continuously monitoring reports relative to the security of the pope.
He said they are also looking into reports that ISIS members are recruiting Filipino militants particularly those from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Reports of ISIS recruitment and the deployment of recruits were earlier confirmed by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Mayor Joel Maturan of Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan, a known bailiwick of the ASG.
Pope Francis will visit the country from January 15 to 19, 2015. Part of his itinerary is a scheduled visit to survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda in Leyte.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is in charge of the overall security for the pontiff’s five-day visit while the AFP will provide the necessary support.
Catapang said he assigned two dedicated battalion-size units, the 7th and 8th AFP contingents to the Golan Heights, to form part of the papal security cordon. The two units will be placed under the operational control of the PNP.
He expressed belief that the peacekeepers’ exposure to and experience in international security would be put to better use during the pope’s visit.
Malacañang also on Tuesday said government security forces are ready to thwart any attempt on the life of Pope Francis.
These security preparations, according to Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., are being done in coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies.
Since securing the pope is not only a local effort, the Palace official assured that preparations for the papal visit will be fool-proof amid reports that a 15-man team of alleged terrorists are now in Luzon ahead of the visit of Francis in January next year.
WITH JOEL M. SY EGCO