Estrada orders MPD chief to tighten security in churches during Simbang Gabi

The Daily Tribune| Written by: Pat C. Santos| December 15, 2016

As the entire country remains under Terror Alert Level 3 following the foiled bombing try near the US Embassy, Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada yesterday assured the public churches in the city will be under tight guard during the traditional Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo.

Estrada tasked Manila Police District (MPD) director Senior Supt. Joel Coronel to field as many policemen and security units as possible to every parish church, cathedral and basilica in the city which are expected to be filled with parishioners starting at dawn of December 16 until Christmas Eve.

“We won’t let anyone disrupt Misa de Gallo. We won’t allow anyone or anything to destroy the spirit of Christmas. We will ensure the safety and security of every Manileño attending the Masses,” the Manila mayor said.

As he assured the safety of the citizenry, Estrada also called on the city residents to be attentive at all times and report to authorities any suspicious individual or situation they might encounter.

He cited the improvised bomb found along Roxas Boulevard near the US Embassy last November 28 which terrorists could have set off easily if not for the vigilance and quick thinking of a street sweeper who immediately reported it to the police.

“We should remain calm but be vigilant. We need everyone’s cooperation at times like this,” Estrada said.

Police said the improvised explosive device, had it detonated, could have maimed or killed a number of people within a 100-meter radius. It consisted of an 81mm mortar round, cellphone battery and SIM card, a blasting cap and a nine-volt battery, similar to the one used in the September 2 bombing of Davao City that killed 15 people.

Estrada assured the 4,652-strong city police force that the city government is ready to back them up and provide whatever logistical requirements they need to protect the city from criminal and terrorist elements, especially during the Christmas season.

As part of the operational security plan for Simbang Gabi, Coronel said he will assign 10 policemen and one patrol car to every church in the city throughout the nine-day series of Masses.

Manila has 113 churches; 63 are considered as major shrines, basilicas and cathedrals such as Binondo Church, Quiapo Church, San Agustin Church and San Sebastian Church, among other churches.

“So for the Simbang Gabi alone, we will dedicate a total of 1,113 policemen to protect the thousands who will be attending the Masses,” Coronel said.

Aside from the church-detailed policemen, the MPD chief also said every unit of the police force will be on full alert, particularly the MPD’s highly-trained Special Weapons and Tactics.

“As announced by the Chief PNP, we’re on a full alert because of level 3 terrorist alert confirmed by intelligence sources,” Coronel said.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa announced last December 1 that Terror Alert Level 3 was hoisted over the entire country after the foiled Manila bomb plot.

He said the public can expect more stringent checkpoints, random “Oplan Sita” or unannounced searches on motorists and raids on the hideouts of suspected terrorists.

He, however, called on the public to remain calm, saying there is no cause for alarm despite the terror threats in the country.