SAN FRANCISCO, (VIA PLDT),  November 20, 2004
By Marichu Villanueva - Alleged assassination plots against President Arroyo have prompted her security group to completely change and overhaul the present security and protection provisions for her — be they at home or overseas.

These new security measures are heightened by the most recent assumption by the Philippines of its new role as head of the Anti-Terrorism Task Force for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

The alleged assassination plots against the President were first revealed to The STAR a month ago by sources within the Palace.

"This was why the President is no longer going out unnecessarily to malls for her Sunday family day movie watching or even playing golf," the source told The STAR last month.

This would explain the "backdoor" entry and exit now instituted in events attended by the President outside Malacañang Palace.

Presidential Security Group (PSG) chief Col. Delfin Bangit reluctantly told The STAR yesterday that they have such information but he refused to elaborate on the matter.

"There is a significant information — but not yet verified information — to that effect," Bangit said. "Especially now, because of the President’s stature as a strong anti-terrorism leader, it has attracted threats from both foreign and local origins."

Bangit said the PSG has tightened up its close-in security cordon around the President. "Let us just say we are improving our operating systems," he said.

This was why there was nothing new actually in this "backdoor" entry and exit for the President, Bangit said as he admitted the PSG started instituting these new security measures as early as three weeks ago in Manila.

Bangit said the backdoor entry of the President was a standard operating procedure (SOP) that the US Secret Service provides to all visiting heads of state.

The PSG chief disclosed that there was already an agreement in Manila with Secret Service officers in charge before the President made a brief working visit to San Francisco to implement these heightened security provisions for Mrs. Arroyo, including her being herded through the backdoor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Burlingame, where she and her official delegation including her husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, were billeted.

The advance team of Philippine officials who arranged the President’s visit here led by presidential adviser for state and foreign visits Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr., however, tried to persuade the US Secret Service to allow Mrs. Arroyo to pass through the front doors to certain events inside the hotel.

Paynor’s request was granted last night, as the President made her usual front door entrance into the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency to address at least 1,000 Filipino-Americans who paid $30 a ticket for the cocktail reception for her.

Former presidential campaign director Lupita Kashiwahara, one of the principal organizers of the Filipino community reception for Mrs. Arroyo, insisted that the President should not be made to pass through the kitchen doors of the ballroom, Bangit said.

The Secret Service, supported inside the hotel ballroom by uniformed policemen from the San Francisco and Burlingame Police Departments, cordoned off the stage as Filipino-Americans pushed and shoved their way to get near the President to shake hands or have their pictures taken with her.

Bangit admitted his concern over the President’s next foreign trip for the annual informal leaders’ summit meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Vientiane, Laos on Nov. 29-30.

He cited the most recent intelligence reports issued by the US government about purported plots by certain international terrorist groups to sow terror during the summit to be attended by the heads of governments of the 10 ASEAN member-states.

Bangit refused to say which groups were behind the latest assassination plots.

Abu Sayyaf bandits have, in the past, threatened to kill the President after she ordered an all out war against them.

Mrs. Arroyo had also scored several victories in her campaign against suspected terrorist cells of the Jemaah Islamiyah in the Philippines, as well as in the government’s battle against big-time international and local drug syndicates.

This was not the first time that Bangit confirmed alleged assassination plots against the President. It will be recalled that Bangit revealed intelligence reports of supposed plots to assassinate the President at the height of the campaign during the May 10 elections.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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