Devil in the details: Protecting Pope Francis in PH visit
MANILA, Philippines – How do you protect a very popular pope who will roam various parts of the Philippines in a vehicle that is not bulletproof and who wants to mingle with as many people as possible in a predominantly Catholic country?
It is a "security challenge" but one that Philippine authorities are ready to handle, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said on Tuesday, January 6 – just over a week before the much-awaited visit of Pope Francis.
"The [security] plan is complete. The next thing we will do is rehearse it. We will walk through with people so they know where their posts will be," Catapang said.
"Everything will have to be considered. We will provide air cover to see the stretch of Roxas Boulevard, where there are a lot of high-rise buildings. We need people there. The devil is in the details talaga," he added.
The police will take the primary role of securing Francis in his first visit to the Philippines and will have the the biggest contigent in securing the Pope with 25,000 men, while the military will deploy up to 7,000 troops as back-up in the 3 areas he will visit – Metro Manila, and Tacloban City and Palo town in Leyte.
Catapang said up to 5,000 reservists will also be asked to help.
It's a huge military operation involving more than double the 3,000 troops deployed during the 3-week siege in Zamboanga City in September 2013.
It means close-in security, route security including air cover, and building security. It will involve, among others, sniper teams that will take positions around Luneta Park, where Francis will hold a mass on January 18, and security air patrols to secure all the routes of the Pope.
Preparations have involved non-stop meetings for intelligence officers who have been war-gaming for months, imagining what could possibly happen, and working out how the response. While the rest of the country enjoyed the holidays, military officers have been in the thick of meetings even during Christmas eve.
It's not even the terrorist groups they are concerned about, but the so-called "lone wolf," individuals symphatizing with certain groups who might operate on their own and try to get attention.
The possibilities include the dangers of what Catapang calls a "people surge," a situation where the crowd cannot be controlled and the Pope could trip or worse. The military response is something the Pope will not like: barricades.
"We are asking the people who would want to go there: 'Yung masilayan lang sana si Pope, matuwa na tayo. Kasi, not all of us [can] get near the Pope (Just to catch a glimpse of the Pope should be enough cause for celebration because not all of us can get near the Pope)," Catapang said.
The military will provide additional air cover for Pope Francis to be able to monitor him on top of the crowds. This is on top of the Pope's own security team.
The Philippine Air Force also supported the recommendation of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to declare the areas no-fly zones on the dates of the papal visit.
Air Force chief Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado said "all available assets within the area" will be deployed to secure the Pope. – Rappler.com