Historic Intramuros lived up to its name as the “Walled City” after government security personnel virtually sealed it off from the public on Thursday to give way to a lunch-cum-city-tour for the spouses of the heads of states attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit.
About 1,000 policemen from as far as the Cordillera region in the northern Philippines were deployed to the Manila district. They included SWAT teams, firemen, explosive and ordinance agents and K-9 units.
The tight security measure around the area, which was implemented from Wednesday, 6 p.m. through to 4 p.m. on Thursday, drew mixed reactions from affected residents, students, employees and businessmen.
Wilson Frias, a seaman from Zambales, was seething in anger as he waited outside the Victoria entrance gate of Intramuros for almost two hours, along with more than a hundred others, before they were allowed to enter at 1 p.m.
“Masyado nilang minamaliit ang pagkatao ng mga Pilipino sa sistemang ito. Ano akala nila sa mga Pilipino [That’s how lowly they treat us, Filipinos, with that kind of system! What do they think of Filipinos, anyway]?” Frias replied when asked to comment by The Manila Times.
He said he was staying at the Association of Marine Officers Union of the Philippines’ (Amosuf) hostel in Intramuros, while working on the requirements for his papers.
Rosemari Biso, 49, a housewife residing on Cabildo Street, aired a similar complaint, saying some of her male neighbors were picked up the night before and detained until midnight by policemen for no apparent reason.
“Hindi kami makapasok sa sarili naming bahay kasi nandiyan si Noynoy[?]. Hindi pwede pakalat-kalat, dinadampot ng pulis. Hinuli ng pulis ang ilan kong kapitbahay, pinakawalan alas 12 ng gabi [We couldn’t enter our own house because Noynoy was around the area (?). Those who loitered were arrested by the police. The police arrested some of my neighbors. They were released at 12 midnight],” Biso said.
Noynoy is the nickname of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Students Tricia Bihar and Roxanne Natividad from Colegio de San Juan de Letran, a school located inside Intramuros, said they missed classes because they were barred from getting through the only entry gate to the district.
Policemen manning the Victoria entrance gate facing The Bayleaf hotel said they were ordered not to allow anybody in from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Thursday because the delegates to the APEC summit were arriving during that time.
The Presidential Security Group stood on guard at the entrances to the Ayuntamiento Building where the visiting APEC ladies were to have lunch.
All other entrances to Intramuros were shut, though some people with certain types of identification cards were allowed entry through the Victoria gate.
However, some ID-bearing crew members of a food catering company – about 14 of them – who were supposed to be serving lunch for the visiting ladies, had trouble convincing the Victoria guards at about 12:15 pm that they were running late and needed to get through as soon as possible.
How they survived the lockdown
Media workers whose offices were located within the confines of the Walled City were not spared the trouble.
Carol Claudio, a staffer at the National Press Club, said she blew her top when the police manning the barricade at the foot of Jones Bridge on Magallanes Drive refused to let them pass and insisted they walk more than a kilometer away to the Victoria gate to get inside Intramuros.
“I don’t see the point why they wanted us to walk [a kilometer]more when their steel barricade is anchored on the iron grills of the Press Club compound. Our office is just about 10 paces away from the barricade,” she said in Filipino.
The Manila Times news editor Leena Calso-Chua had an almost similar experience at the gate near the Bureau of Immigration, a stone’s throw from her office. She said she tried to reason with the police officers that her office stood just 50 meters away from where they were, but was told they were only following orders.
A rayadillo-clad guard told the group of media workers from the Times, the Philippine Star and employees of other offices in the area to call the Intramuros Administration and seek permission to enter. “We’ll let you in if they say, it’s OK,” he said.
The usually soft-spoken Sthefanny Baylosis, editorial assistant at the Times, who skipped lunch and traveled all the way from Taytay (Rizal), went ballistic and shot back, “Eh paano kami tatawag sa Intramuros Administration eh hindi nga sila sumasagot? Tatlong araw na namin sila tinatawagan para magtanong tungkol dito sa lockdown hindi naman sila sumasagot (How can we call the Intramuros Administration when they’re not picking up calls? We’ve been calling them for the last three days to ask about this lockdown, but they’re not answering their phones!)”
Policemen, as well as IA security guards, also shooed away the crowd and prohibited them from staying on the road.
“Huwag muna kayo dito. Doon po kayo sa kabila, sa medyo malayo, bawal po ang tao dito (Don’t stay here. Go to the other side, a bit farther away. People are not allowed here),” the guards said.
Pedestrians exhausted after having walked for hours were also urged not to sit on the pavements. “Huwag po kayo umupo diyan, bawal diyan. Tumayo lang po kayo (Don’t sit there, it’s prohibited. Just stand up),” a policeman said.
It was past 4 p.m. when police and the guards opened the barricades and Intramuros hummed back to normal.