MANILA — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assembled on Sunday the troops assigned to form part of the 17,000-strong security contingent that will help secure Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines starting this week.
AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. inspected the troops’ readiness during his visit at the parade ground of Camp Aguinaldo at around 9:30 a.m.
At least 6,000 soldiers from different branches of service showed up in their respective field uniforms and troop carriers.
More or less 3,000 ROTC cadets are also tapped by the Army Reserve Command (ARESCOM) to support the regular troops.
The contingent is composed of regular soldiers, military reservists and ROTC Cadets.
It will be placed under the Joint Task Force-NCR led by Brig. Gen. Apolinario Alobba.
Other AFP units have also conducted mustering of troops that will be deployed in their respective areas of responsibility.
Catapang said that their participation during the security operations for the papal visit is more than just an ordinary duty for the soldiers.
“By showing ourselves, we must let Pope Francis feel that he is well-loved by the soldiers and the Filipino people as a whole,” he added.
Catapang also said that the AFP has participated in table top exercises to overcome the security challenges during the Pope’s visit that will be attended by millions of Catholics.
The military has been placed on red alert status starting on Saturday.
All scheduled leaves are put on hold during the period of the papal visit.
The purpose of the “red alert” is to ensure the maximum number of troops that would be committed for security operations and other support role tasks.
Earlier, defense and police officials said they have all prepared for all possible security contingencies for Pope Francis’ four-day visit to the Philippines.
This was in response to questions on whether security forces have rethought their strategies in wake of terrorist attacks in France which claimed the lives of around 20 people last week.
“We have prepared for all scenarios with all resources we have. All government security agencies are in close coordination to ensure that our mga ‘kapatid’ (brothers and sisters) attending and observing this event concentrate and fully experience the spiritual encounter of the Pope’s pastoral visit to the Filipino flock,” Defense spokesperson Dr. Peter Paul Galvez said.
His view was shared by Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor.
“All possible situations are being considered and appropriate contingency responses are studied for implementation if necessary,” he added.
An estimated 37,000 police officers and soldiers, including reservists, were ordered mobilized to secure the Pontiff in his Philippine visit.
Meanwhile, AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said that they are still to detect any security threats for the papal visit, addong that having a France-like incident happening in the country is “very remote.”
“The circumstances surrounding the incident in France is very remote. We do not see any reason why it should be linked to the visit of (a) Man of Faith, Peace, Justice and Equality,” he stressed.