Protecting Pope harder than Obama, police warn

Police in the Philippines have warned that protecting Pope Francis during his five-day visit to the country next week is expected to be much more difficult than protecting US President Barack Obama who visited the nation’s capital, Manila, last year.

While the Philippine National Police (PNP) has not received any information on a threat to the Pope, a spokesman said the agency was focused on challenges of huge crowds of Catholics expected to gather for the Pontiff’s trips to Manila and Tacloban City, Leyte.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the country from January 15-19 and is due to say Masses at Mall of Asia and Quirino Grandstand in Manila and at Tacloban airport.

Even with the Philippines hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) leaders’ summit in late 2015, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the Pope’s visit would be the “biggest security nightmare” the military would face this year.

“It’s a security nightmare in a way. We will just make do with the available forces. This will be the biggest security nightmare that we can have. Everything will have to be considered. There’s a lot of high rise buildings, so the devil is in the details,” Catapang said.

He confirmed some 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers and 5,000 reserves would be deployed during the visit of the Pope.

It has also been announced that Pope Francis will be given twice the number of Presidential Security Group personnel as guards Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino III during official activities.

The Philippines is  the third most populous Catholic country in the world. In 2011, it was estimated that 75.5 million Filipinos, or roughly 80 percent of the population, identify themselves as Catholic.