PH vows 'higher' APEC security after Paris attacks

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippines on Saturday, November 14, put its police on full alert and vowed "higher security" for world leaders at an economic summit in Manila next week after a series of bombings and shootings left more than 120 dead in Paris.

US President Barack Obama is set to join the leaders of China, Japan, Australia, Canada and 15 others at an annual Asia-Pacific Economic Conference summit in Manila on November 18-19. (READ: APEC what? An explainer on Manila's high-profile week)

While President Benigno Aquino III said there is "no credible threat" at this time, he convened the security cluster of his cabinet on Saturday, November 14, two days before the APEC summit week.

Present in the meeting at Bahay Pangarap were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Sarmiento, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, and Philippine National Police Chief Director General Ricardo Marquez.

"The meeting lasted for an hour-and-a-half. President Aquino wanted to ensure that all our preparations are in place and all contingencies have been planned for. As he said, it is better to be over-prepared than caught under-prepared," Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters same day.

Valte said on government radio that Aquino had put the entire 120,000-strong national police on "full alert", which she said is standard Philippine security procedure after major terror attacks.

"We are committed to ensuring the safety of our visitors and our people. This is a message that has been sent (to the visiting APEC leaders) not just in light of the incidents in Paris," she added.

Asked about the implications of the Paris attacks on the APEC summit, Foreign Undersecretary Laura del Rosario, a member of the summit organizing committee, told Agence France-Presse by text: "Higher security." 

Foreign 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." (READ: Aquino: 'Philippines stands shoulder to shoulder with France')

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 on Saturday, Philippine marines deployed anti-aircraft guns and riot police around the main summit venue as police conducted a full rehearsal of the visiting leaders' motorcades to the summit venues and their hotels.

The Philippines has a long history of Islamic militancy in a southern region about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from Manila, although extremists have also carried out deadly attacks in the capital.

'No specific, direct threat'

Police Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor, spokesman of the APEC 2015 Security Task Force, said they have not monitored "any specific or direct threat in our homefront."

Still, at 8:20 am Saturday, PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez placed all Philippine National Police units nationwide under full alert condition – as a matter of routine procedure – "to ensure availability and operational readiness of police forces to respond to any contingencies."

"Target hardening measures on vital installations, particularly seaports, airports and our rail systems have been further elevated to maximize deterrence against unforeseen events," Mayor added.

He also urged the public to disregard and report immediately to authorities "scare messages" going around through social media and text messaging.

"These only serve to add to public anxiety that may further lead to hysteria and panic.... At present, security forces are saturated in Metro Manila beyond the regular deployment scale because of the ongoing APEC event. This should add to the peace of mind and level of confidence of our people and heighten optimism for a fruitful and uneventful APEC 2015 Summit."

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. – Rappler.com