PNP dismisses rumors of terror threats, signal problems

MANILA, Philippines – As security alerts all over the world tighten, and world leaders arrive in the country for an economic summit, Philippine police urged the public “not to be intimidated… by disinformation” and to “stand as one.”

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor made the statement on Monday, November 16, the start of a week-long Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit that will see world leaders – including US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping – visit Manila to attend the Economic Leaders Meeting.

The meeting, which caps off a year’s worth of APEC summits hosted by the Philippines, is a safety and logistical nightmare for Philippine officials. (READ: APEC daily schedule)

On Monday, Manila’s already notorious vehicular traffic practically ground to a halt, with the implementation of special “APEC lanes” and the closure of several roads.

Over 32,000 personnel have been deployed throughout Metro Manila, to secure routes, venues, and hotels that will be used during the APEC summit.

The Philippines’ plans were put in the spotlight following terrorist attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Paris that killed more than a hundred on November 13 (November 14, Saturday in the Philippines).

PH ready?

Mayor said they did not need to adjust security plans, since a full-scale terrorist attack has been something they’ve prepared for since day 1 of the year-long planning for the Economic Leaders’ meet.

Over the weekend, a video showing two ISIS supporters went viral on social media sites. In a 5-minute long clip, two men – referred to as “Abu Ana” and “Abu Jihad” – said they would be launching attacks in the country.

Kayo ay matatakot sa inyong paglalakad sa mga daan, at mga kalsada. Kayo ay matatakot na pumasok sa inyong mga opisina at mga trabaho. Kayo ay matatakot at mangangamba kahit na kayo’t nasa loob lamang ng inyong mga tahanan. Amin kayong tatakutin at iteterrorize hanggat sa inyong pagtulog at panaginip,” Abu Ana said in the video.

(Be afraid when you’re walking on the road, along streets. Be afraid when you go to work. Be afraid even if you’re just at home. We will scare and terrorize you even in your dreams.)

The video did not indicate where it was shot, but security sources told Rappler they've traced it to people based in Mindanao.

Mayor told reporters that there have been no validated reports of terrorist threats in Metro Manila or more specifically, during the APEC meet. Still, Mayor said, intelligence officials are verifying the video.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla Jr was also quick to dismiss the claims in the video. "Wag na rin nating binibigyan ng pansin, wag na nating idignify. Security forces and the intelligence network are continuously monitoring and doing their jobs but we play right into their game if we give it attention," he told reporters Monday. 

(Let's not give them any more attention, let's not dignify their claims.)

The PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been on their highest alert since Saturday morning, in the lead-up to the APEC and in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

When the AFP or PNP are under full alert, all personnel are on duty. They take longer shifts and are not allowed to go on leave. The entire 18,000-strong force of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), for instance, will be on-duty until the APEC meet ends to perform summit-specific tasks and regular police duty.

Early Saturday afternoon, President Benigno Aquino III, himself a stickler for security plans in big events, convened the Cabinet security cluster.

PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez told Rappler in a previous interview that no new security measures were put in place, emphasizing that their existing plans have always included “worst case scenarios.”

Mayor said they have yet to receive requests of changes in security plans from the contingents of economic leaders, despite the attacks in Paris.

Rallies not allowed, just stay home

It’s protest rallies that worry police officials the most when they talk about APEC. During the Monday briefing and briefings in the past, officials reiterated that the “no permit, no rally” rule is in place.

Mayor told reporters that local government units (LGUs) affected by the summit had previously said they would not be issuing any permits to rally during APEC. Freedom parks, said Mayor, are the only place where groups can stage a protest rally without a permit.

The police general, however, could not give a proper answer when pressed on why the Lumad staging a protest at Liwasang Bonifacio, a freedom park in Manila City, were being driven away. He instead said the PNP only reinforces the decision of the LGUs.

Manila Mayor Erap Estrada said the Lumad were being driven away in time for APEC, supposedly under Malacañang’s orders.

“It’s okay to hold rallies. But let’s not turn violent,” said Mayor, recalling that during Aquino’s final State of the Nation Address (SONA), two police personnel were harmed by protesters who allegedly abducted them.

During that same SONA, confrontations between police and protests turned violent. (READ: Militant leaders face charges for 'attack on cops' during SONA)

The police spokesman was also evasive when asked about the worsening of Metro Manila’s traffic conditions on Monday or how the government was going to respond to instances wherein commuters had to walk long stretches because of traffic jams and road closures.

A special “APEC lane” – where only select vehicles may pass – has been set up, particularly in EDSA, the Metro’s main thoroughfare. Mayor said only APEC vehicles, cars with APEC passes and decals, and the vehicles of the President, the Vice President, Senate President, House Speaker, and the Chief Justice are allowed.

Mayor said they encourage people to either leave for the provinces or stay at home during the APEC meet, to avoid adding to the worsening traffic condition.

Since last week, security officials had been advising the public to avoid EDSA and areas affected by the summit because of heavy traffic, which they expected. – Rappler.com