RP an open terror target: Arroyo

MANILA -- Admitting that the Philippines is an open target for terror groups, at least 10,000 policemen will be deployed to ensure security measures are in place to thwart any attack in time for the October 18 state visit of US President Bush.

"Potential targets have already been secured and hardened and we will continuously keep up with emerging intelligence assessments. We would like to assure everyone that we are ready to thwart any plan of Jemaah Islamiyah or any other terrorist group," she said.

The President made the statement after Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill warned of further terrorist attacks, particularly from the Jemaah Islamiyah, noting that Manila is a "potential target".

Hill said despite the arrest of several leaders and members of the terrorist cell, the group continues to plan and conduct terrorist attacks.

The cost of all the preparations for the visit of US President Bush is close to the price of acquiring a helicopter, said Deputy Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) estimated the cost of a fully refurbished Huey helicopter at $1 million.

Director-General Reynaldo Velasco, Metro police chief deputy director, was named as the ground commander of "Task Force Dubya", which would be the primary implementing unit for the security measures drafted for the Bush visit.

Velasco said the entire Metro Manila police would be placed on full alert to secure all vital installations -- including embassies, oil depots and malls.

According to PNP Chief Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., Velasco will be reinforced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to ensure peace and order, including traffic enforcement during the Bush visit.

But while at least 50 percent of the 17,000 personnel of the National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) will be detailed to provide security for the Bush visit, the rest will be on hand to attend to the normal police work including fighting street crimes, anti-drugs among others.

"While we have proven our capability to ensure the peaceful conduct and containment of mass actions during the July 28 State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Arroyo, let us redouble our efforts in ensuring the overall safety of the US President and peace and order in the metropolis," said Velasco.

Under "Task force Dubya", the Western Police District headed by Chief Supt. Pedro Bulaong and the Northern Police District under Chief Supt. Marcelino Franco Jr. converged under "Task Force Namana", tasked to provide route security, crowd control, as well as to secure the immediate vicinity of Malacaņang Palace and the US Embassy.

The Central Police District headed by Chief Supt. Napoleon Castro and Eastern Police District led by Chief Supt. Rolando Sacramento fall under "Task Force
Mahoma", which has been tasked to provide route security and to secure the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the Southern Police District under Chief Supt. Jose Gutierrez is responsible for securing the Makati Commercial Center as well as providing route, convoy, and airport security under "Task Group Marocona".

Some 3,000 more police personnel from the PNP headquarters under Task Groups "Contingency and Support" and "Reserve" are on standby and will be deployed in short notice once the need arises.

Prior to the arrival of Bush, Velasco ordered the five district directors and the 37 station commanders to intensify the implementation of preemptive measures, and placed the NCRPO on heightened alert.

Likewise, coordination has been made with the MMDA, as well as the different local government units (LGUs) and other concerned groups for the setting up of security measures.

He also ordered the conduct of enhanced crowd disturbance management training among the districts in anticipation of militant groups' protest rallies in lieu of the arrival of the US president.

Expenses

Meanwhile, Saludo said the renovation cost, which is "less than the price of a helicopter", is only "logical" compared to the aid and assistance the Philippines is getting.

He said the amount of preparation is "certainly miniscule compared to the amount of aid or assistance -- and not just the financial amount but the actual security benefits that the country is able to get because of the relationship with the US."

Saludo said Filipinos would also benefit from it, because they are ones who visit Malacaņang, which is also being spruced up.

He added that the cost of refurbishment is "reasonable" since no buildings are being torn down and rebuilt from scratch.

Presidential chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao said there are no major renovations in the Palace and most of the improvements started in October last year, way before Malacaņang knew that Bush would be coming.

Tiglao said 90 percent of the refurbishment was based on "historical renovations", like the transfer of the flagpole. He said the funding is based on the Palace's regular budget.

He said the only improvements being done in preparation for Bush's visit are repainting, cleaning, and whitewashing.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the steps that government is taking to ensure a warm welcome for Bush are reasonable, considering that he is a very important visitor, being the leader of the world's most powerful country.

Eaga agreement

Jesus Dureza, presidential assistant for Mindanao Affairs, said the anti-terrorism and security experts from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will have a series of meetings starting on the first week of November to review and improve on the campaign -- particularly those pertaining to customs, immigration, quarantine and security matters.

Dureza said the move stemmed from the meeting of the leaders of the four countries during the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East Asian Growth Area (Bimp-Eaga)) summit in Bali, Indonesia, which Arroyo attended.

The Bimp-Eaga stint was a side meeting from the 9th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Bali.

He said one of the points agreed on was the recommendation of outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad to have a "getting together to come up with common border security arrangements".

He said under the proposal, local police heads would be able to access their counterpart in other cities or regions covered by the Bimp-Eaga area.

He said the agreement was tested when the six workers, including a Filipino, of the Borneo Paradise Resort in Lahad Datu, Malaysia, were abducted last October 8 by suspected Malaysian bandits.

Dureza said ongoing joint RP-Malaysia Navy exercises in Mindanao were converted into an actual joint operation to assist in the search and rescue of the victims and the immediate arrest of the culprits.

Bunye said reports that the victims were turned over by abductors to the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu are still being verified.

Bunye added that country's security and defense officials are doing their best to secure potential targets as well as capture and neutralize terrorist groups or leaders who maybe hiding or sowing terror in some parts of the country.

He added that they continue to hope that the military and police forces would strike gold and also recapture Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi before US President George W. Bush arrives visits on October 18.

He, however, clarified that there is no deadline for the recapture.

Al-Ghozi, and suspected Abu Sayyaf members Abdulmukim Ong Edris and Omar Opik Lasal, escaped from detention in Camp Crame last July 14 and have reportedly been hiding in some parts of Mindanao.

Ong was killed after trying to evade his captors last August 7, while Lasal was recaptured October 8.

Bunye assured that Lasal would still be given due process.

"I commend the police and military operatives who conducted the arrest (of Lasal), for their loyalty and dedication to the task. We hope this would increase our chances to land an early capture of Al Ghozi," Arroyo said.

The President said Lasal's arrest only shows how much the dragnet against terrorists was "tightened to the extent that they have been continuously immobilized".

"Our eyes and ears are open in the communities most vulnerable to terrorist incursions and our vigilance will not relent," he added. Miko Santos/She Torres

11/10/2003

Bron : Sun Star

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