TACLOBAN CITY: Former United Nations peacekeeper and veteran Police Officer Romulo Esteban headed the 1,500-strong contingent sent by the Bicol Police Office to augment the security force tasked to ensure the safety of Pope Francis and the one million visitors expected to arrive here on Saturday.
It was a daunting task since going to Tacloban City from Camp Gen. Simeon Ola in Legazpi City already tested the patience of the Bicol policemen who rode for 14 hours in 32 buses over bumpy and winding roads. They also had to endure the big waves in San Bernardino Strait on board 3 roll-on/roll-off boats. To get to Tacloban, the contingent had to travel 247 kilometers more via the national road.
Esteban, deputy director for operations of the Bicol Police, wasted no time though as he immediately coordinated with the Eastern Visayas Police Office to do a dry-run of the security measures on Wednesday.
Bicol Police Director Victor Deona said this is the biggest contingent force they have moved so far to augment the security forces in another region. Although the police offices in Regions 2, 3, 4-A, 5, 6, 7 and 13 also sent representatives, it was the Bicol Police that sent the most number.
Deona sent off mostly senior police officers with multi-disciplines. This include the team headed by Esteban in their United Nations safekeeping missions abroad.
Esteban’s troops are assigned to secure the Tacloban City airport where Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate mass. Other members of the Bicol delegation are deployed to the downtown area.
Over 5,000 policemen from Luzon and Mindanao were sent to Leyte for the Papal visit.
Pope Francis will arrive in Tacloban on January 17. He is set to interact and dine with some survivors of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which took the lives of more than 7,000 people on November 8, 2013. Also dining with the Pope are five people who survived the earthquake in Bohol province.
The Pope is also set to visit the mass grave of at least 200 people at the back of the Palo Cathedral and pray for the repose of their souls.
The Police here already warned motorists that the San Juanico bridge will be closed to traffic starting January 15. The bridge connects Leyte to neighboring Samar Island.