By Marichu Villanueva - American Secret Service officials prevailed yesterday in the strict enforcement of their security impositions while President Arroyo remains in their area of responsibility.

Despite vehement objections by the Philippine advance team that prepared for the overnight stopover visit here, the United States Secret Service got their way and herded Mrs. Arroyo through the backdoor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The President and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo were billeted at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Burlingame, where she and her official delegation were brought immediately upon their arrival at the San Francisco International Airport.

In deference to the decision of their counterparts in the Secret Service, the Presidential Security Group (PSG) headed by Col. Delfin Bangit went through the hotel back room, one of the standard operating procedure (SOP) secured entry and exit points for all visiting heads of state in the US.

"That’s their SOP for security considerations," one of the President’s close-in PSG security escorts said. "We did not pass through the kitchen, but through the hotel’s back doors."

The PSG official also said the President herself did not make a fuss over such security measures and leaves matters of security to the experts — in this case, the Secret Service.

The Philippines’ advance team led by presidential adviser for state and foreign visits Ambassador Marciano Paynor earlier insisted on a front-door entrance for the President despite reported plans of militant Filipino-American students to stage protests against Mrs. Arroyo and her support for US President George W. Bush’s policy on Iraq.

The militant students were reportedly set to protest alleged human rights violations in the Philippines as well.

Consul-general Ma. Rowena Sanchez of the Philippine consulate here said Paynor tried to convince the Secret Service to give Mrs. Arroyo the dignity of a front door entrance into the hotel instead of through the hotel’s kitchen to avoid protesters.

"If you want, we are even willing to issue a waiver to hold you not responsible in case anything happens," Sanchez quoted Paynor as telling the Secret Service officers.

But the security officials said they could be subjected to congressional investigations should anything untoward happen to Mrs. Arroyo while she is in their care.

"You should try to understand that we Asians, in our culture and way of life, do not want to lose face before our people," Sanchez quoted Paynor as saying. Paynor also argued that the PSG would certainly not allow any harm to befall Mrs. Arroyo.

Sanchez said they received reports that militant students planned to stage rallies while the President addresses a big public gathering at the University of San Francisco (USF) along Parker Avenue.

Mrs. Arroyo is set to receive an honorary degree at the USF and attend a cocktail reception for the Filipino community at the Hyatt hotel ballroom.

Sanchez added that the PSG has "gone to many places which could be considered very dangerous" and found that "San Francisco City is even safer, perhaps, than the Philippines."

Augmented by full security complements from the Burlingame and San Francisco police departments, the Secret Service escorted the President and the First Gentleman to a private dinner last night at the Broadway Prime restaurant, where they dined with friends from the business sector such as Enrique Razon of the International Container Services Inc. (ICTSI) and WG&A shipping firm owner Endika Aboitiz.

The President is in San Francisco for an overnight stopover en route to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in Santiago, Chile.

The President’s last official event in San Francisco will be cocktails with at least 700 members of the Filipino community. The event was organized by a group of Mrs. Arroyo’s supporters led by former presidential campaign director Lupita Kashiwahara.

Kashiwahara told The STAR that the Secret Service posted vocal objections to how the cocktails were to be conducted, considering the size of the crowd that would attend the event.

To facilitate guests’ entry, the Secret Service has set up three magnetometers and the ticket price was set at $30 as added security against gatecrashers, Kashiwahara added.

However, the Secret Service’s security concerns do not end there. Filipino-American Jasmine Trias, who came in third in the American Idol search, will be with the Filipino community here for the barrio fiesta-style reception for Mrs. Arroyo.

Trias will sing both the Philippine and American anthems at the Hyatt hotel ballroom before the cocktail reception begins. Her services will be rendered "for free," Kashiwahara told The STAR.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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