MANILA, OCTOBER 16, 2003  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  - Despite daily protests and ever tightening security in the country, President Arroyo said yesterday that most Filipinos support US President George W. Bush and will give him a "rousing welcome" during his eight-hour stopover this weekend.

The President’s statement follows small but almost daily anti-Bush demonstrations by leftist groups denouncing her strong support for the US-led war on terror and the occupation of Iraq.

Police have repeatedly prevented protesters from approaching the seaside US Embassy and forcibly dispersed some rallies. A permit will be needed to demonstrate during Bush’s visit this Saturday.

"Our people support President Bush and will make every effort to make his stay, however short, both meaningful and memorable," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement. "Security preparations are in place and we are ready to give him a rousing welcome deserving of a friend and ally of the Philippines."

Bush will stop over in Manila before he heads to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Thailand.

However brief Bush’s visit, Mrs. Arroyo’s office said parts of Malacañang would be repainted.

A "barrio fiesta" cocktail party will show the "traditional Filipino warmth and hospitality." The American visitors will be entertained by the famous "Pangkat Kawayan," a band that plays predominantly bamboo instruments.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said that when Mrs. Arroyo made a state visit to the United States last May, the White House gave her a warm welcome, which the Philippine government would like to reciprocate.

Mrs. Arroyo expressed anger at a New Zealand travel advisory that warned against possible terrorist attacks during Bush’s visit.

"It is unfortunate and unfair to the Philippines and to President Bush," she said. "Security is very tight for the Bush visit and there should be no cause for undue alarm."

The governments of Australia and Britain have also issued separate travel advisories on the Philippines over the past two weeks, advising their citizens to defer non-essential travel to Metro Manila and the rest of the country.

However, the United States expressed appreciation over the security provided by law enforcement agencies for Americans in the country amid the latest travel warnings.

In a press briefing yesterday, US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone downplayed all of the reported security concerns over the state visit.

Ricciardone believed that his president will feel the same degree of confidence about the capabilities of the law enforcement agencies as the Americans living here.

"He does not only feel safe, but warmly, warmly welcome. I’m sure the president would experience what we Americans who have visited your country always experience: the warmth and care, the smiles and the fun of Filipinos," Ricciardone said.

He declined to comment, though, on reports quoting the statements of Indonesian terrorist Riduan Isammudin, better known as Hambali, who said that one of the targets of the Jemaah Islamiyah in the Philippines is the US Embassy compound.

Red Alert All Over The City

Three days before the Bush visit, the police and military have been placed on red alert.

Police vowed to strictly implement a no-permit, no-rally policy on Saturday as some 50,000 militant rallyists are expected to join mass actions. However, they expressed confidence that 10,000 uniformed police personnel would be able to handle the rallyists.

The five police districts in Metro Manila are tasked to guard five vital areas during Bush’s visit, including the vicinity of Malacañang, the oil depot in Pandacan, Rizal Park, the stretch of Roxas Boulevard and the vicinity of the US Embassy as well as the Batasan complex in Quezon City where Bush will address the joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The US president’s Air Force One would touch down before noon on Saturday. Sources said that upon arrival, Bush will first drop by the US Embassy in Manila and later proceed to Malacañang.

From the Palace, Bush and Mrs. Arroyo would go directly to Batasan.

Last-minute preparations are now underway at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) by the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).

In a telephone interview, PAF Public Information Office chief Maj. Restituto Padilla said that the military has been placed on standby as part of the security measures.

Edgardo Manda, airport general manager, said no flights will arrive or depart within a two-hour period around noon Saturday, and also later in the evening, when Bush leaves.

He said the restricted air space around the place has been extended but did not say by how much.

Airport police and the police Aviation Security Group have conducted a security briefing for leaders of communities around the airport, who were told how to recognize a "manned portable air defense system," or shoulder-fired weapons, that could be used against planes, and to immediately report any sighting, he said.

Meanwhile, the Western Police District (WPD) has also mobilized security personnel of all hotels in Manila to help detect terrorists who might stay in their respective hotels.

WPD Director Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong said that hotels are the best places to detect and trace possible terrorists who might carry out an attack.

Bulaong and other WPD officials met with hotel security personnel yesterday to give instructions for hotel security chiefs to be on the lookout for suspicious looking persons and immediately report them to the police. — with AP, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Sandy Araneta, Marvin Sy, Bong Fabe


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