TWO days before the arrival of Pope Francis, security preparations have not been perfected by authorities even as they assigned additional troops, bringing to 42,000 the total number of soldiers and policemen who will secure the pontiff and his entourage.
Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on Tuesday said they were only 90 percent prepared as they were still fine-tuning some security measures.
“We’re not [100 percent ready]. We are only at 90 percent something because we are still doing some time acts (or timing of movements],” Padilla explained.
The AFP increased its contingent from 12,000 to 17,000, while the Phiippine National Police (PNP) has decided to follow suit with 5,000 more security forces to 25,000 or a combined total of 42,000 soldiers, reservists and policemen.
Col. Vic Tomas, deputy commander, Joint Task Force National Capital Region, said as far as Metro Manila is concerned, they were already 100 percent operationally capable with a committed force of 6,264 soldiers, excluding reserve and follow-on forces, and 44 dogs to complement a much bigger PNP contingent.
“Anytime we are ready to deploy to support the PNP,” Tomas added. “Today we will conduct our full-scale deployment simulation, how to address civil disturbance.”
He said the general security situation remains safe in the absence of any threat against the pope.
“We are very confident and we are hoping that it will stay that way. Of course, we don’t want any untoward incident,” Tomas added.
He admitted though that their topmost concern was still crowd control.
According to Padilla, the PNP would have control over all military personnel involved in security support to the police, while the Joint Task Force NCR has control over Air Force and Navy personnel in charge of air and naval security.
The PNP also on Tuesday started deploying some 25, 000 police personnel as part of its security preparations for Pope Francis, who is arriving tomorrow at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City (Metro Manila) for a five-day (January 15-19) state and apostolic visit to the country.
Earlier on Monday, the officer-in-charge of the PNP, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, placed the 150,000-strong police force on full-alert status in a bid to maximize the number of personnel during the papal visit.
A full-alert status means that all leaves are canceled and each police personnel is required to be at his post 24 hours a day.
Espina in a statement also on Tuesday said the PNP has committed the 25, 000 personnel and equipment in different areas in the country where the pontiff will be gracing activities.
“We are putting our best foot forward in this historic national event. We have started [security]preparations since last year,” he added in the statement.
The 25, 000 police personnel will provide operational support to the Presidential Security Group (PSG), which will secure the pope and his entourage.
“We appeal to the public for their understanding and cooperation in the security measures that are being implemented by the police.” Espina said.
WITH ANTHONY VARGAS