PALACE  WALLED  BY STEEL CONTAINER VANS;  FOR  GMA,  BUSINESS  AS  USUAL


MANILA, MARCH 1, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - It was business as usual for President Arroyo yesterday as she went on with her scheduled public engagements — but under heavy security.

Malacañang itself was transformed yesterday into a fortress surrounded by steel container vans.

All roads leading to Malacañang in the San Miguel district of Manila were sealed off by 20 to 40-foot-long container vans to prevent attempts to storm the Palace.

In the morning, Mrs. Arroyo inducted into office the new members of the executive directorate of the 235-strong Lady Municipal Mayors Association of the Philippines (LMMAP) at the Heroes’ Hall at Malacañang.

She also inducted the new set of officers and directors of the People Management Association of the Philippines, and the Metro Manila Federation of Environment Multipurpose Cooperatives.

After the two activities, Mrs. Arroyo proceeded to the Quirino Grandstand in the Rizal Park in Manila for the soft opening of the Manila Ocean Park, dubbed as the country’s first state-of-the-art oceanarium by Philippine Tourism Authority general manager Robert Dean Barbers.

The Presidential Security Group (PSG) added more men to protect the President on top of the heavily-armed sentries discreetly posted on the rooftop and unfinished portions of the oceanarium.

To show that everything is alright, Mrs. Arroyo joined her Cabinet officials in a mini-bus on their way to Meycauayan, Bulacan.

She proceeded to Barangay Malhacan to inaugurate the Nestle Business Service (NBS) Asia–Oceania-Africa (AOA), a new corporate entity of the global Nestle Group.

From there, Mrs. Arroyo went on an inaugural drive-through over the newly-renovated Meycauayan Bridge in Barangay Banga.

She even went to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with some of the residents in the area.

From Meycauayan, Mrs. Arroyo and her party proceeded to Sta. Maria, Bulacan for the groundbreaking ceremony of the two-story four-classroom Sta. Maria Central School building.

At the Palace, a Mass was held at the Presidential Guest House.

Officials said the Mass was requested by presidential son and Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Arroyo. Some 40 congressmen and 36 governors and scores of mayors attended the Mass.

PSG chief Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza said the extra precautions were necessary even as her escorts made sure that her public engagements “are clear of threats.”

‘Contained’

Traffic through the three main entrances—Nagtahan, Ayala Bridge and Mendiola—were limited as the container vans took up at least one lane of the road leading to the gates, leaving only a narrow gap for vehicles and pedestrians to pass through.

A police mobile command post was parked in front of the Department of Budget of Management Building approaching the gate near Ayala Bridge. Nearby were scores of anti-riot policemen along the sidewalks.

All vehicles were subjected to closer inspections by the police and the PSG.

“These are just precautionary measures because there were some public statements about them (opposition) marching to Malacañang,” Prestoza said.

“But if (the marchers) come, we have no choice but to block them because it is our duty to protect the President,” he said.

Prestoza however said there are no confirmed intelligence reports of storming the Palace.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, in separate interviews, said there was nothing unusual in the increased security around the Palace complex amid the massive anti-government rallies in Makati City yesterday.

“It’s the usual SOP (standard operating procedure). What we are after is there is peace and order,” Ermita said.

Compared to previous security measures, yesterday’s barricades and checks were actually ‘lax’,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo, for her part, personally monitored the situation in Makati City through a live television feed at the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame in Quezon City.

Mrs. Arroyo arrived at Camp Crame in the afternoon and stayed for several hours monitoring the situation with her security officials that included Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, PNP chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr. and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

“We will stay here until after the rally in Makati City,” said a police general, who was with the President at Camp Crame.

“We are monitoring reports on different television stations. So far, the rally was peaceful,” he said.

Before the President arrived, the PNP Public Information Office announced that Razon will hold a press conference in connection with the rally in Makati City. The press conference was called off after Mrs. Arroyo arrived.

The police official said Mrs. Arroyo was in a “good mood” during the meeting with her security officials. - With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Dino Balabo


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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