RED ALERT STAYS, SAYS PALACE

MANILA, November 10, 2003  (STAR) Despite President Arroyo’s personal assurance that there are no specific threats of destabilization against her government, the military and police will likely remain on alert for some time, Malacañang said yesterday.

"We do not have a specific time frame," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said in a radio interview when asked whether the government would downgrade the alert level of the military and the national police.

Bunye said one reason for the tack was the need to "instill alertness and readiness" in the country’s security forces.

"It’s very important for us to instill alertness and readiness in security personnel, (the Armed Forces of the Philippines) and (the Philippine National) police, particularly those assigned to airports and other sensitive installations. State of alertness must become a habit," he said.

Bunye made the remark amid speculation that the airport tower takeover staged by former Air Transportation Office (ATO) chief Panfilo Villaruel Jr. on Saturday involved more men than initially thought.

Villaruel and his aide, Navy Lt. (sg) Richard Catchillar, were killed by police after they seized the air traffic control tower of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal II before dawn of Saturday.

The President herself dismissed speculations that the airport tower siege was part of an "opportunistic destabilization" against her administration.

"I assure the people and the world that our airport is safe and sound," the President said in an official statement on Saturday.

"The nature, course and magnitude of this incident show that it is not an attempt to take over the government. No unauthorized movements of troops have been detected as of this time anywhere in the country," she said.

Lauding the action of the airport security forces, the President said "nothing will ever justify the taking over of an international control tower and prejudice the lives of our passengers."

"There can be absolutely no excuse to terrorize the public in this manner," Mrs. Arroyo said.

While she dismissed fears that the siege was part of what she described last week as "opportunistic destabilization," Mrs. Arroyo also placed the military and police on "maximum alert" and ordered that checkpoints be set up around Metro Manila.

Other government officials echoed Bunye’s statement and said the siege was an "isolated incident" although the situation could have involved several airborne aircraft and hundreds of passengers.

Bunye praised the "fast and effective" response by authorities.

"This is just proof that the government remains in control of the situation and that’s the reason for confidence in this government," Bunye said. — Mayen Jaymalin


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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