THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not taking any chances.It would deploy an entire division or some 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers to secure Pope Francis against the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and other potential threat groups.
Lt. Cmdr. Jim Alagao, spokesman, AFP Central Command, on Sunday said the Army’s 8th Infantry Division( 8th ID) based in Camp General Vicente in Lukban, Catbalogan, Samar, has been designated to secure the pontiff.
Alagao, however, added that the military is only a support group of the Philippine National Police, which is in-charge of overall security preparations for the papal visit.
Under the 8th ID are the 801st, 802nd and 803rd Infantry Brigades. Each brigade consists 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers.
“Well, in our area of responsibility, there is still the NPA, which we look at as possible threat,” Alagao said.
“We hope they would not [try anything against the pope]. It would be a big problem if they would do something [that would endanger Francis’ life]. If, however, they would do it, we are ready,” he added.
According to Alagao, the AFP and the PNP are holding consultation meetings on the security aspects of the pope’s visit.
Pope Francis will visit the country from January 15 to 19, 2015. Part of his itinerary is a scheduled meeting with survivors of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban City, Leyte.
The AFP intelligence community is also closely monitoring other threat groups, such as the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group, with known links to the al-Qaeda, an international terrorist group, and its Asian-based terrorist cell Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP Public Affairs Office chief, said they have not monitored any specific threat against the pope but the military, he added, is not lowering its guard down and continues with its intelligence gathering.