Massive security forces readied for Pope’ visit PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 13:24

Massive military and police forces have been readied to ensure safety and orderly during Pope Francis’ visit in the Philippines on January 15-19.

Armed Forces of Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Tuesday told reporters in Manila that the AFP will deploy 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers to secure Pope Francis during his stay and visit to Manila, Tacloban City and Palo in Leyte in central Philippines.

Catapang said the number is in addition to the peacekeeping contingents from the Golan Heights, Liberia and Haiti who recently returned to the country, and the 5,000 reservists who will be mobilized for the event.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) had earlier announced that 25,000 police forces will be available for the security of the Pontiff.

Catapang during Tuesday’s New Year’s Call at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, however, clarified that they have yet to detect any security threat for the Pontiff’s visit, adding that their greatest concern is the so-called “people surge” or the attempt of the public to get near or personally see Pope Francis at

range, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA).

“(That’s why) we are putting up barricades (in the areas he will visit), hopefully, the people will understand that they will all have a chance to get a glimpse of the Pope,” Catapang said.

He also reminded the public to avoid putting Pope Francis, who is known to break security protocol to interact with the people, in any “difficult situation.”

Despite the absence or lack of security threats, Catapang said that they are looking at every possibility.

“In the military, we call this ‘wargaming’,” he explained.

Catapang also expressed confidence that the AFP, along with the Philippine National Police, will be able to successfully hurdle the security challenge posed by the Pontiff’s visit.

He revealed that air cover and sniper teams will be posted along Roxas Blvd. in Manila on the day of the Pope’s arrival.

Catapang said the airspace along the stretch of Roxas Blvd. will be cleared of all aircraft except those involved in securing the Pope.

The Pontiff is scheduled to arrive late in the afternoon of Jan. 15 at the Philippine Air Force’s Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

He and his convoy will proceed to Roxas Blvd. toward the Apostolic Nunciature in Malate, Manila.

Catapang said sniper teams will be posted on six or eight high-rise buildings along the path of the Pontiff’s entourage.

The AFP chief said that these sniper teams will monitor the area for possible threats and if needed, to neutralize them.

Last week,Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor told local media the PNP is deploying around 25,000 policemen and force multipliers during the visit of Pope Francis.

Mayor said that the PNP personnel will be backed up by AFP soldiers, men of theMetropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Presidential Security Group.

“Maybe before the Pope arrives, some 1,000 forces  ... at the peak of the visit, we’ll go up to 25,000,” Mayor said in a radio interview.

He said that the National Capital Region Police Office has been on heightened alert starting in feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9 and the papal visit from January 15 to January 19.

Pope Francis is expected to arrive in Manila from Sri Lanka, the first leg of his Asian trip, by plane past 5 p.m. on January 15, and will go on a motorcade to his official residence in the Philippines. The following morning, January 16, Pope Francis  will be officially welcomed by President Benigno S. Aquino III at Malacañan Palace in Manila. The Pope will also meet Philippine authorities and members of the diplomatic corps.

After the Palace reception, Pope Francis will go on a motorcade to the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Manila Cathedral) in Intramuros for a Mass with bishops, priests, and women and men religious. Later, he will have an encounter with families at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.

In Leyte province, the Pope Francis will visit the Archdiocese of Palo. He will offer Mass near Tacloban Airport  in the morning of January 17 and will have lunch with the poor and survivors of Typhoon Haiyan and Bohol 2013 earthquake at the residence of the Archbishop of Palo. Afterwards he will bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo, and visit the Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration (Palo Cathedral) to meet with priests and women and men religious.

On January 18, the Pope will meet religious leaders and young people at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila. In the afternoon, he will go on a motorcade for the Concluding Mass at Quirino Grandstand in Rizal (Luneta) Park.

Pope Francis will leave for Rome on January 19.

Cebu Pacific, the country’s leading airline, announced on Monday that it has canceled domestic and international flights at the Ninoy  Aquino International Airport (Naia) during the arrival and departure of Pope Francis in the Philippines on  January15 and January 19.

A Christian student group on Monday called on Pope Francis to diverge from his official itinerary and make “surprise visits” to urban poor and marginalized communities.

“The message of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines – that of mercy and compassion – should not be clouded by bureaucracy and stuffy official itineraries, vagaries which the pontiff himself just recently denounced in his annual message to the Roman Curia,” said Eisntein Recedes, Student Christian Movement-Philippines (SCMP) spokesperson.

In a press statement, the SCMP, an ecumenical organization of Filipino youth and students, expressed its fear that

Philippine officials will “build a Potemkin Village” in the Argentinian pontiff’s official itinerary to cover the country’s social realities behind “walls of pleasantries.”

“The Filipino youth is deeply inspired by the words and deeds of Pope Francis. Yet we fear that the government will not let his holiness (sic) truly witness the dire situation of the vast majority of Filipinos living in poverty,” Recedes said.

He added, “We urge Pope Francis to surprise the Filipino people by paying a visit to the darkest corners of Philippine society, where the hope and love he harbors is needed the most.”

The SCMP is a member of the World Student Christian Federation, an international group of ecumenical student movements with members from Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican denominations.

Pope Francis is known to be a champion of the poor, even when he was serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires. His name is even associated with a 12th-century saint who lived a life of poverty.

“During the 2014 World Youth Day, the pontiff encouraged the youth: ‘We have to learn to be on the side of the poor, and not just indulge in rhetoric about the poor! Let us go out to meet them, look in their eyes and listen to them.’

“Thus, the Filipino youth urge Pope Francis to take a break from his schedule and make surprise visits to the poor communities here in Manila and Visayas,” Recedes said.

This is not the first time the visiting pontiff was asked to spend more time with the poor. In October, when Francis’ itinerary was being prepared, a priest questioned why the Pope will only spend 6 hours in typhoon-ravaged areas in the Visayas.

“That’s why I’m wondering, because the original intention of the Pope is to visit the disaster survivors. But why will he spend only a day there? He should stay longer. Why is it mostly Manila?” Fr Edu Gariguez of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) asked in October 2014.