Aquino: 25,000 soldiers, cops to secure Pope Francis
ROMBLON, Romblon—President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said the government had taken into account the lessons from past papal visits as it put together measures to ensure Pope Francis would have an “orderly and peaceful” visit in the Philippines.
Mr. Aquino said Malacañang would release next week “very instructive” videos and photos of previous papal visits to encourage the public to do their part in keeping Francis safe.
He said one of the “most dramatic photos” to be shown would be the visit of John Paul II in 1995, where Manila’s Rizal Park was fully packed.
Mr. Aquino said the government would ensure there would be enough space in the crowds to absorb the throng in case of a stampede.
He said one video would show the faithful waiting for John Paul II along Roxas Boulevard in a “disciplined” manner. Everybody was on the sidewalk, he noted.
“As the Pope’s convoy neared, the perimeter was broken. It is in instances like this that people could get hurt and it could give terrorists a chance to get near the Pope. We cannot let that happen,” the President said.
He said another video captured the commotion at the Manila airport during the visit of Pope Paul VI, where “it looked like a lot of people were mingling at the airport, which should not be the case.”
“The fake priest was able to enter [the airport],” the President said, referring to Bolivian painter Benjamin Mendoza, who was able to lunge at and wound the Pontiff in an assassination attempt.
“Of course, we look back on these,” Mr. Aquino said when asked how much of the Philippine experience in securing Pope Paul VI and St. Pope John Paul II were considered in preparing for the visit of Francis next week.
The President urged the public to follow the measures the government had put in place to keep Francis safe during his visit from Jan. 15 to 19.
“Let us help each other,” Mr. Aquino told reporters. “The citizens are key to make the visit peaceful.”
Mr. Aquino said about 25,000 members of the military and the police would be assigned to ensure Francis’ safety.
“But with 25,000 for 6 million people who are estimated to go to Luneta [for the Pope’s Mass], the government can’t do it alone,” Mr. Aquino said. “We will keep on repeating our message: We are in touch with the Church and the private sectors. If we work on this together, we will accomplish our goal.”
No ‘nightmares’ yet
Asked if he had apprehensions over the Pope’s security, the President said he had always been “obsessive” with details.
He said that while he had yet to have “nightmares,” it was the “government’s job to always think of the worst-case scenario and then try to prevent this from happening.”
“We are resolute … to ensure that we lessen the risks inherent with the Pope’s visit,” Mr. Aquino said. “There are challenges because our Pope today is one that is very close to the people and he looks forward to the chance to get close to our fellow Filipinos.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has completed more than 90 percent of its preparations, ready for all possible scenarios.
AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said the military was only “fine-tuning” its preparations.
“One final rehearsal will be done in the coming days,” Padilla said.
He said the AFP was preparing for all scenarios but was focusing on crowd control, given that the papal visit would draw millions of people to the event.
“We appeal to the public to follow the regulations, which will be publicized in newspapers, TV and radio stations,” Padilla said.
This is to address the possibility of a stampede. Padilla predicted more than 10 million people would turn out for the papal visit.
At Quirino Grandstand, the crowd is expected to reach 6 million, while the event at SM Mall of Asia Arena is expected to draw 4 million to 5 million people.
Announcements on road blocks and closures, as well as traffic rerouting, will be announced later.
Since umbrellas will not be allowed for security purposes, the public is advised to bring hats or transparent, plastic raincoats.
Asked if soldiers would be wearing “diapers,” like the personnel from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Padilla said it would be a “personal preference” of soldiers.
“The AFP will not be providing adult diapers,” Padilla said, adding that soldiers were trained to control their bladders. But there will be public toilets for security personnel and the public.
Civilians and off-duty lawmen will not be allowed to bring their guns in places included in the papal visit.
The Philippine National Police said the prohibition would be an added measure to ensure papal security.
PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said the no-firearms policy would be strictly implemented in the nine areas in Manila and Leyte province that the Pope would visit.
The ban will apply to civilians who own firearms and off-duty members of the PNP, the AFP and other law enforcement agencies.
The areas where the no-firearms policy will be observed are the Nunciature area on Taft Avenue; Malacañang Palace; Manila Cathedral; SM Arena; Villamor Air Base; University of Santo Tomas; Quirino Grandstand; Tacloban City, and Palo town, Leyte province.
Members of law enforcement agencies will be allowed to bring their firearms if they are on duty in the said areas, Mayor said.
Under the law, firearms are not allowed in “places of worship, public drinking and amusement places and all other commercial or public establishments.”
Mayor said the prohibition was not a gun ban but an implementation of provisions of the gun control law. He said the prohibition would apply on the days and times the Pope was scheduled to visit certain areas.
For example, the prohibition will not apply to Manila if Francis is visiting Tacloban City.
Hard-headed gun owners face the risk of having their firearms confiscated if they insist on bringing them to gun-free zones, while their licenses will be revoked, Mayor warned.