7,000 policemen to secure Pope during Philippines visit

7,000 policemen to secure Pope during Philippines visit
Pope Francis kneels as he leads the Christmas night mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican December 24, 2014.

PALO, Philippines - About 7,000 policemen are to be deployed during the visit of Pope Francis in Leyte on Jan. 17.

This was disclosed by Chief Supt. Asher Dolina, regional police director, who said the police would conduct a dry run on security on Jan. 11, to ensure everything would be all right during the visit of the Pontiff.

Of the 7,000 policemen who will help secure the Pope, 5,000 will come from Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas and Caraga, Dolina said.

The remaining 2,000 policemen will come from the regional headquarters of the Philippine National Police.

The police deployment will cover all "places of engagement" of the Pope, including the 12-kilometer stretch of road from the Mass site at Tacloban City's Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport to the town of Palo.

In Palo, the Pontiff will inaugurate the Pope Francis Center for the Poor within the complex of the Archbishop's Palace, where Francis will also lunch with 30 survivors of Supertyphoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan) and the Bohol earthquake.

He will also visit the Palo Cathedral, where he will meet with members of the clergy and laymen.

Swiss Guards

"We have requested from our national headquarters an additional police force of 5,000, which was granted right away," Dolina said.

Members of the Philippine Army, composed of one battalion, will be deployed as an augmentation force.

Msgr. Alex Opiniano, chair on security and public order, said the Pope would have members of the Presidential Security Guard and the Swiss Guards as close-in security.

He said the papal security would have "three layers," with the policemen on the first layer, followed by volunteers and then another group of security personnel.

Naia also prepared

The pilgrims on the roads where the Pope will pass will be located beyond the three-layer security, Opiniano said.

He said houses rising more than two levels and located along the route of the Pope would not be allowed to be occupied on that day, as part of security arrangements.

Authorities at the country's main airport are "very much prepared" for the arrival of the Pope, according to Jesus Gordon Descanzo, manager of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) police unit.

"We have had many meetings and we have organised the teams," Descanzo said. "As early as November, we have prepared a security plan."

X-ray units and dogs

"We will have X-ray (machines) and dogs," he said.

He said the authorities had "recruited more or less 150 new airport policemen," most of whom had already been deployed to Naia Terminal 3.

"We have these lessons learned," Descanzo said, referring to the killing of Labangan town (Zamboanga del Sur) Mayor Ukol Talumpa and others in the arrival area of the terminal.

Critics have slammed airport authorities for the poor security measures in what was supposedly a very busy place for holiday travelers.

"So far we have not received any threat of terrorist (activity) at the airport," Descanzo said.

With a report from Kristine Felisse Mangunay in Manila


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