Aquino: 25,000 soldiers, cops to secure Pope Francis

Aquino: 25,000 soldiers, cops to secure Pope Francis
Above: Pope Francis

ROMBLON, Philippines - 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 Malacanang 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."

Final rehearsal

"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 per cent 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.

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