April 7, 2004 (STAR) By Non Alquitran  - A least 340 policemen were deployed to 85 bus terminals in Metro Manila as the exodus of commuters to the provinces for the long Holy Week break started yesterday.

Metro Manila police chief Director Ricardo de Leon ordered the fielding of four-man police teams at bus terminals located mostly in Cubao, Quezon City; Sampaloc and Intramuros in Manila; and in Pasay City to secure commuters from petty criminals like snatchers, pickpockets and robbery-holdup gangs.

"Each team will be composed of investigators and traffic enforcers, who, aside from securing the area, will also assist bus firm personnel in the inspection of baggage, handbags and packages for bombs, firearms and deadly weapons," De Leon said.

The Metro police chief has placed the 17,000-strong Metro Manila police force on heightened alert for the long weekend holiday.

He ordered his five police district directors and 37 station commanders to secure not only the bus terminals but also malls, churches, seaports and airports and other passenger holding areas in their areas of jurisdiction to ensure the safety of commuters.

He said public assistance centers will be put up in strategic areas to guide motorists, especially tourists and local travelers, to their destinations like churches, tourist spots and other highly-populated areas.

The Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit earlier announced the temporary suspension of their operations, but this did not prevent De Leon from beefing up security at the two facilities to prevent sabotage attempts.

According to him, operatives from the Regional Special Action Unit and the Special Weapons and Tactics have been tapped to conduct police visibility patrols in the vicinity of "soft targets" such as bus terminals, churches, malls, seaports and airports as well as hard targets.

Hard targets include vital installations such as government agencies, oil depots, embassies, basic service facilities and telecommunication installations.

As early as last week, De Leon issued Letter of Instruction (LOI) "Semana Santa" which involves ensuring the smooth flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, the protection of properties left unattended and the fortification of defense against possible terrorist attacks.

Under the LOI, the Metro Manila police, in coordination with the Traffic Management Group, will provide motorists, commuters, and the general public by conducting intensified security patrols, providing traffic assistance along major thoroughfares leading to and from summer destinations.

Other government agencies involved in the LOI were the Department of Transportation and Communications, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the local government units.

De Leon also ordered a vigorous conduct of foot and mobile patrols near unattended homes, in close coordination with security personnel of posh subdivisions in Metro Manila. Holy Week Alert

The Manila police’s heightened alert against street crimes this Holy Week resulted in the apprehension of two holdup men while in the act of robbing jeepney passengers in Sampaloc last Monday night.

Western Police District-Theft and Robbery Section head Chief Inspector Benjamin Reyes identified the suspects as Leandro Marinas, 18, a Sigue-Sigue Sputnik gang member, of Sampaloc, and Rodel Maniego, of Quiapo. Recovered from the suspects were two fan knives, a cellular phone and two bags.

The victims told police that three suspects announced the holdup as the jeepney they were riding reached the corner of Lerma and R. Papa streets in Sampaloc at about 9 p.m. The suspects divested passengers of their personal belongings.

While the robbery was in progress, a passing mobile car noticed the commotion inside the jeepney and gave chase. The three holdupmen jumped off from the jeepney, resulting in the arrest of two suspects.

Reyes said plainclothes policemen, supported by mobile cars, are now in constant patrol to thwart criminal activities during the Holy Week when people leave their houses to visit relatives in the provinces.

As this developed, WPD director Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong personally conducted an on-the-spot inspection of the Pandacan oil depot, a potential terrorist target.

Bulaong briefed the policemen deployed in the area on counter-terrorism measures, as he assured Manila residents of police protection against any form of attacks. No Worries In Camanava

Northern Police District Office (NPDO) director Chief Superintendent Marcelino Franco Jr. said yesterday all vital installations in the Caloocan-Malabon-Valenzuela-Navotas area (Camanava) are now tightly secured.

This came about as reports broke out that alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) are now in the city to sow terror and create chaos by hitting at vital installations in Metro Manila.

"Our efforts in Camanava are not so much concentrated in (watching over) Muslim communities here as for security during the Holy Week and all the way up to the elections," Franco said in an interview.

He said that their efforts are focused mainly in securing areas where people congregate in big numbers such as in malls, bus terminals, the railway system, churches and other vital installations.

Franco added they are glad Camanava does not have what they call "high risk profile" targets such as hotels, motels and resorts, allegedly the main targets of terrorists.

The police will also be closely watching over activities in the churches during the Holy Week.

"There will more police visibility. This will also entail a lot of sacrifice from policemen as all their leaves are canceled so they will be there at their posts for the heightened security," Franco added. – With Nestor Etolle, Jerry Botial

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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