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Church bells to peal for pope’s arrival

Pope Francis arrives for a Holy Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, in Istanbul, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. Meeting with Turkish leaders in the capital Ankara a day earlier, Francis urged Muslim leaders to condemn the "barbaric violence" being committed in Islam's name against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. AP/Markus Schreiber

MANILA, Philippines - The simultaneous peal of church bells will greet Pope Francis when he arrives in the country on Thursday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) announced yesterday.

CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said church bells all over the country would simultaneously ring at 5:45 p.m. as “a symbolic gesture of welcome to the Holy Father.”

Villegas has tapped the bishops and priests in all dioceses and parishes for this purpose.

The CBCP leader also appealed to “the people who are unable to see Pope Francis personally to at least pray for the pope for the duration of his Philippine visit.”

Traffic dry run set tonight

However, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) again reminded the public yesterday to expect heavy traffic along major roads in Pasay City and Manila tonight as the agency would simulate the traffic route for the arrival of Pope Francis in Villamor Airbase and his motorcade to the Apostolic Nunciature along Taft Avenue.

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The MMDA earlier announced that the dry run would start at 6 p.m. from the northbound exit of Villamor where the papal convoy would counter-flow traffic from Andrews Avenue, going to Roxas Boulevard and to the Apostolic Nunciature.

MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino appealed to motorists to avoid the roads affected by the dry run.

The 200-man MMDA contingent that arrived in Tacloban City in Leyte province yesterday will also simulate the traffic route of the papal visit there.

The MMDA is also expected to announce today the detailed traffic rerouting plan it intends to implement, along with the drop-off points and designated parking areas and buffer zones for emergency vehicles. It was not disclosed earlier for security reasons.

More soldiers, cops deployed to MM

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) will deploy more soldiers and policemen to all the places that Pope Francis will visit in Metro Manila and Leyte to heighten security.

The AFP has increased troop deployment from 15,000 to 17,000, while the PNP has increased cop deployment to over 20,000. Bomb-sniffing dogs will be sent to all venues of the papal visit.

The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) will also deploy marshals to prevent stampede in the metropolis.

“Our main problem during the papal visit will be crowd control… These marshals would be assigned at elevated portion of the route of the pope to tell people where is the safest way to go in case a worst scenario comes up,” NCRPO chief Director Carmelo Valmoria said.

UST needs more volunteers for human barricade

The University of Santo Tomas, however, needs an additional 5,000 student volunteers that will form the human barricade during the encounter of the Holy Father with the youth and religious leaders on campus Sunday.

Evelyn Songco, assistant to the rector for student affairs, said UST needs 10,000 student volunteers but only 5,000 had committed so far. For this reason, the cut-off for accepting student-volunteers is extended until Tuesday.

The human barricade will also be composed of around 200 university faculty and support staff.

Songco reminded those attending the papal event at UST that camping inside the campus is not allowed.

Students will be prohibited from entering UST from Jan. 15 as the Manila city government has suspended classes and government work from Jan. 15 to 19.

But Thomasian volunteers and cluster leaders are allowed to stay overnight at designated buildings like the Tan Yan Kee Student Center, St. Raymund de Peñafort building, Benavides high school building, and St. Martin de Porres building.

Palace holds ceremonial walk-through

In preparation for Pope Francis’ visit to Malacañang on Jan. 16, President Aquino and all members of his Cabinet also held yesterday a dry run of the ceremonial walk-through at the Palace grounds.

“This is to finalize our preparations for the meeting between the pope and the President… This would ensure the safe, organized and orderly flow of events inside the Palace grounds as part of the general audience of senior government officials and members of the diplomatic corps,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

Members of the Cabinet will accompany Aquino during his meeting with Pope Francis.

There are no details yet on how much the national government has spent for the papal visit, but Coloma said the amount would not exceed the usual expense every time a head of state makes a visit to the country.

Rains likely in Tacloban

Aside from security, authorities should also prepare for the rains that will likely greet Pope Francis during his visit in Tacloban City on Saturday to meet the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said yesterday a low-pressure area (LPA) hovering over the Pacific Ocean is expected to enter the Philippine area of responsibility on Thursday.

PAGASA weather forecaster Alvin Pura said the agency is looking at two scenarios for the LPA. One is it will dissipate due to the prevailing cold weather in the country and the other is it will intensify into a tropical cyclone and bring rains over Eastern Visayas and the Bicol region this weekend.

“But we still expect fair weather in Metro Manila during the arrival of Pope Francis on Jan. 15,” Pura said.

The trough of the LPA would bring rains over Eastern Visayas and Mindanao tomorrow until Wednesday.

Cagayan Valley, Cordillera, Bicol region and the provinces of Aurora and Quezon will have cloudy skies with light rains due to the northeast monsoon or amihan.

Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon will be partly cloudy to at times cloudy with isolated light rains.

No-fly-zone policy covers drones

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) yesterday announced that the no-fly-zone policy to be imposed during the papal visit covers not only airlines but also users of unmanned aircraft system or drones.

CAAP declared as no-fly-zone the areas to be visited by Pope Francis. These include the Apostolic Nunciature, Malacañang, SM MOA Arena, Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, UST, and the Tacloban airport. – With Lawrence Agcaoili, Delon Porcalla, Perseus Echeminada, Non Alquitran, Jaime Laude, Helen Flores, Eva Visperas, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez

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