Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tight security as Pope Francis begins his visit to the Philippines

Today, Pope Francis begins his visit to the Philippines. A huge security operation is planned with an estimated 37,000 police and military personnel deployed to ensure there are no attacks on the Pope. Gregorio Catapang Jr., the top commander of the military, said the Papal visit was the " the biggest security nightmare" the government faces.

Earlier Papal visits have been marred by attacks on the Pope. When Pope Paul VI visited in November of 1970 he was attacked by Bolivian artist Benjamin Mendoza. Mendoza had managed to pass through the airport security wearing a priest's robe. He slashed the Pope with a dagger, just missing his throat. When Pope John Paul visited in 1995, Ramzi Yousef who previously had attacked the World Trade Center, planted a bomb which luckily exploded prematurely. There have been threats reported against the Pope in recent months. Adding fuel to the fears, some armed jihadist groups in the southern Philippines have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The Philippines has been placed on "full alert status" for the full period of the Pope's visit. As many as 100 young Filipinos are thought to have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State.

 There have been several videos of two Islamist groups, Abu Sayyaf, and BIFF, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. For the arrival of the Papal plane, a no-fly zone has been declared and several flights have been cancelled as well. Those who plan to attend the Papal mass were warned not to bring bags or even umbrellas. Barricades are being set up in some areas of Manila to keep crowds from surging too close to the Pope. When John Paul II visited in 1995 it was estimated that five million people were present at the mass he gave. That record could very well fall when Pope Francis celebrates mass on Sunday.

One of the three vehicles that the Pope will use during his visit is built like a jeepney. Jeepneys were originally manufactured from converted US military jeeps left in the islands after World War II. They are used as buses and for transporting all kinds of goods throughout the country. Many are lavishly decorated and painted but the Pope's vehicle will be white with an elevated rear deck. The Pope does not like the Vatican's "popemobile" which he calls a "sardine can." He prefers open-top vehicles, no doubt causing considerable anxiety for those responsible for his security.

Manila traffic police are expected to spend long hours on the job without a break and are being required to wear diapers as described in an earlier article. The traffic enforcers had a good practice run wearing the diapers during the long procession of the Black Nazarene on January 9, shown in the appended video. Just click "Watch on You Tube" to view the video.

No comments: