Security plans for pope kept secret

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The government will keep under wraps security measures it is laying out for the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines in January following reports that terrorist groups are out to kill the pontiff.

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“We can’t broadcast the nitty gritty because the criminal elements might use it in their favor. But rest assured that we are on top of the preparations for the papal visit,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview on Saturday.

Former security officials have raised warnings that groups with jihadist leanings could target the pope during his trip to the country.

One official told The Manila Times the Pope is at his “most vulnerable” during the Visayas leg of his trip.

Pope Francis will be in Tacloban City and Palo in Leyte on January 17.

Police insiders had told The Times earlier that a jihadist group has set up cells in Luzon and the Visayas ahead of the papal visit.

They said an attempt on the life of the pope was not unlikely. In 1995, the al-Qaeda plotted to kill Pope John Paul 2nd while he was in Manila for the World Youth Day.

The so-called Bojinka plot was foiled after chemicals in an apartment room in Manila where the terrorists was making bombs caught fire, alerting the authorities.

“I assure you that we are prepared,” Valte said. “Security is one of the primary concerns and all of these [warnings]are being taken into consideration. But of course, we can’t go into so much details because by the nature of the security preparations, only few people need to know about it.”

Hundreds of thousands of Catholics are expected to attend the Masses the pope will celebrate during his visit.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) reminded the faithful to be “self-sufficient” if they plan to attend the Masses in Tacloban City and in Rizal Park in Manila.

CBCP Secretary General Fr. Marvin Mejia said the Church is closely coordinating with the government organizing committee on how are they going to control the crowd during the papal events.

“There is a coordinating meeting yesterday between the Church and the government members of the organizing committee and the steering committee as early as now especially in Tacloban [and]Palo events that the people would be coming in from different islands and provinces. They should be self sustaining meaning, they should bring their own food [and]drinks,” he said in an interview on Friday.

Mejia said “it would be very very difficult to find food” for the people, citing the throngs expected in Rizal Park and Tacloban.

He also advised devotees with health problems to stay home and follow the events on radio or television.

Mejia made it clear that the Church will not prevent persons with health problems from attending the Masses.

WITH A REPORT FROM ROBERTZON F. RAMIREZ

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