Noy vows highest security for APEC
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2015 - 9:01am

MANILA, Philippines – President Aquino placed authorities on heightened alert yesterday as he expressed outrage over the terror attacks that left more than 120 dead in Paris, adding the world must unite to stop such atrocities.

The attacks came as the Philippines is preparing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit this week. The President convened the members of the security cluster at 1 p.m. yesterday as he reassured citizens “that we are taking all necessary precautions” to ensure everyone’s safety.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled his scheduled participation to the summit amid questions about the alleged plan of the Islamic State members to attack his country. Officials were mum about the matter and said “domestic issues” were the reasons for Putin’s decision to skip the APEC events in Manila.   

US President Barack Obama is set to join the leaders of China, Japan, Australia, Canada and 15 others during the annual APEC summit on Nov. 18-19.

Aquino said the Philippine National Police (PNP) was placed on alert and security forces were assessing the situation, including the continuing evaluation of security procedures.

“There is no credible threat registered at this time but let us all be cooperative and vigilant. The Department of Foreign Affairs will be issuing updates on the situation in Paris and has been directed to render all necessary assistance to our countrymen in France,” Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

She added over radio dzRB that the PNP had announced a full alert status for all police units in the country as part of heightened security due to the attacks in Paris.

Valte emphasized though that this is a standard operating procedure after the occurrence of a suspected terrorist attack in other countries or in the event of a national calamity.

“We are just taking our usual precautions…This is part of the anticipated alert level that will be required because of our hosting of the APEC Economic Leaders’ (Meeting),” Valte said.

She added that security authorities were already monitoring the situation and that they would be taking the necessary steps to fine-tune, when necessary, the security and contingency plans for the hosting.

“The attacks... showed not only premeditation but the cruelty that demands the greatest indignation from the world. The Philippines mourns the dead and stands shoulder to shoulder with France. We are committed to ensuring the safety of our visitors and our people. This is a message that has been sent not just in light of the incidents in Paris,” Valte said.

Asked about the implications of the Paris attacks on the APEC summit, Foreign Undersecretary Laura del Rosario, a member of the organizing committee and chair of the Senior Officials’ Meeting, told AFP by text: “Higher security.”

Foreign Affairs department spokesman Charles Jose added: “Our security officials are monitoring and assessing the situation and are taking necessary precautions to ensure the safety, security and well-being of all delegates.”

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ricardo Marquez has placed all police units in the country on full alert status, as he also coordinated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to augment security and to secure all vital installations and facilities.

PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said the intelligence units have not monitored any specific threat to the APEC Summit but is still up on its toes for developments.

Mayor admitted that raising the alert level to its highest status was implemented earlier than scheduled because of Friday’s attack in Paris, where more than a hundred were killed and several others still being held hostage.

“Although we have not monitored any specific or direct threat in our homefront, nonetheless, target hardening measures on vital installations, particularly seaports, airports and our rail systems have been further elevated to maximize deterrence against unforeseen events,” Mayor said.

Mayor added that all possible security scenarios – including possible terror attacks – have already been considered into the framing of the APEC security plan.

The Philippines has swept about 20,000 homeless from the streets, cancelled more than a thousand flights, deployed 18,000 police and declared public holidays in Manila to ensure a safe and efficient summit, the organizers have said.

Major streets in the usually chaotic capital are being closed to traffic to speed up the shuttling of delegates, with police asking building owners to close their windows to prevent their use by snipers.

Early yesterday, Philippine Marines deployed anti-aircraft guns around the main summit venue as police conducted a full rehearsal of the visiting leaders’ motorcades to the summit venues and their hotels.

Military helicopters flew low overhead while naval gunboats patrolled the waters of nearby Manila Bay.

The Philippines has a long history of Islamic militancy in a southern region about 1,000 kilometers from Manila, although extremists have also carried out deadly attacks in the capital.

APEC has 21 member-economies, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the hosts he is skipping the meeting.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry also said President Joko Widodo would be absent, while the hosts said the president of Colombia was attending as an observer.

PCG secures the waters

Maritime Security Task Force for APEC head Commodore Joel Garcia said his group has been on full alert since Friday and would not allow private individuals to enter the identified Exclusion Zone (EZ) areas from Nov. 12 to 22.

Garcia, who is also the Philippine Coast Guard-National Capital Region (PCG-NCR) commander, said that since their ceremonial send off Friday, maritime security has been raised to its full bar.

The No-Sail Zone (NSZ) is from Pasig River going to Parañaque, stretching 30 yards from the shoreline, while the EZ subsumes the NSZ because it covers Pasig River to Parañaque and measures 2 nautical miles from the shoreline. However, during the APEC meeting days on Nov. 18 and 19, the EZ would be converted into a NSZ.

Garcia conducted an actual security survey inspection to make sure that all assets are in place.

He believed that the security plan they have laid out “can already address that kind of scenario (terror attack)” and that they have also considered other possible problems that might arise.

At least 80 ships from the PCG, Philippine Navy (PN), Philippine National Police-Maritime Group and the PCG Auxiliary (PCGA) have been tapped to secure the stretch of Manila Bay and Pasig River.

Believing that terrorists would only strike at a most vulnerable area and at the most vulnerable time, “it is better to overdo our security preparations to not embarrass the Philippines and also to protect our foreign dignitaries, the leaders and our people. So it is better that way. When you saturate the designated maritime security area with forces, that alone is a deterrent,” the Coast Guard official added.

Garcia, who is also the national director of the National Coast Watch Center (NCWC), said they are not discounting the possibility that some groups would stage anti-APEC rallies at sea, but stressed that the assigned security units “would implement contingency measures to stop them.”

Rallies “have happened in the past APEC ministerial meetings so we already have preparations for that. With these preparations for the leaders’ meeting, I do not think they would be able to penetrate the Exclusion Zone,” he said.

He warned those planning to hold rallies at the Manila Bay of arrests when regulations are violated. Aside from all the boats, specific locations are also monitored by three radar sources: the APEC Maritime Security ships, the Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS) and the NCWC.

Garcia said the MSTF has included contingencies in the event they have to evacuate the delegates. Two vessels with medical facilities are also on standby.

All vessels docked within the breakwater were earlier required to transfer elsewhere, except for M/V Captain Ufuk, which was seized by the government, had no crew onboard and is being guarded by PCG personnel. – Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte-Felipe, Mike Frialde


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