MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino placed all government agencies on alert for the Holy Week exodus of Filipinos to ensure that ports, airports and terminals would be orderly and safe for travelers.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement yesterday that the President also wanted public assistance desks set up in these areas so public officials could respond immediately to emergencies and requests of those who would be leaving Metro Manila or the country.
The President advised all motorists and travelers to keep safe, follow all the rules and regulations as well as authorities, remain calm and cool headed, ensure safety of homes before leaving and bring emergency kits and basic medicine for first aid, Coloma said.
The following were the President’s orders:
• For the Toll Regulatory Board to cut long lines and ensure that motorists could pay toll fees swiftly on the South Luzon Expressway, STAR Tollway, Manila-Cavite Expressway, Coastal Highway, North Luzon Expressway, Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway;
• For the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to prevent overloading in public transportation and make sure that buses will have the necessary special permits, that no colorum vehicles will be able to ply routes and terminals are orderly;
• For the DOTC, Philippine Ports Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to ensure that ports are orderly, that there will be no overloading in ships and that all of them will be seaworthy, while passengers’ manifesto will be complete, safety devices will be adequate and that all public assistance desks are set up;
• For the DOTC and airport authorities to ensure that airports are orderly and all X-ray machines will be working while travelers will never have to fall in line and suffer from overbooking and overcrowding just like last Christmas;
• For the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to ensure that all roads will have no blockades and that motorists will not be stuck in traffic gridlocks;
• For the DPWH and Philippine National Police (PNP) to put up public assistance centers in strategic areas and expressways where various public transportation and motorists will traverse. The PNP must have adequate personnel in ports, airports and bus stations to ensure peace and order;
• For the Department of the Interior and Local Government and PNP to prepare for prompt response for emergencies brought about by accidents, fire and crimes.
• For the Department of Health and government hospitals to be ready to respond to the needs of motorists in cases of illness brought about by the hot weather;
• And for the Department of Energy and the National Power Corp. to ensure sufficient power supply and prevent power outages.
Passenger assistance centers
Meanwhile, the PCG said that the Passenger Assistance Center (PAC) has been reactivated.
As of 6 a.m. yesterday, the PAC said there were about 13,654 outbound passengers in all ports and harbors nationwide.
Coast Guard personnel would also strictly implement maximum security and beef up their monitoring to ensure the safety of the public.
They would be manning the seaports in many parts of the country and render immediate response in cases of maritime emergency.
Ship inspectors and Coast Guard K-9 teams were also instructed to exercise extra vigilance in ports and to conduct random checks on passengers and their luggage to ensure that no dangerous cargoes or explosive materials would slip past and be carried aboard passenger and cargo vessels.
3-day red alert
The Armed Forces, for its part, declared a three-day red alert to thwart possible attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels to highlight their 46th founding anniversary celebration tomorrow.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said from today until Monday, the 125,000-strong military will be on high alert to derail any plot hatched by communist insurgents against government and civilian targets.
When asked if they have monitored serious security threats, Cabunoc only said that traditionally, the communist insurgents launch attacks before, during or after their anniversary celebration.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) was also placed on blue alert starting yesterday in preparation for the Holy Week.
NDRRMC executive director Alexander Pama said the status may be raised to red alert next week when the exodus to the provinces is expected to peak.
“We started the blue alert and depending on the situation, we can bring it up to red alert when the situation demands,” Pama said.
A blue alert places half of disaster management personnel at the NDRRMC Operations Center on standby. A red alert, meanwhile, requires all personnel to remain at their posts to ensure enough manpower in case of emergency.
Pama said the goal of their preparations is to achieve zero casualties. The goal, however, remains elusive because of accidents.
A total of 32 persons died and 150 others were injured during the commemoration of Holy Week last year. Most of the fatalities died due to drowning or vehicular accidents.
Pama said 51 incidents were recorded last year, 19 of them road mishaps and 16 of them drowning or near drowning. – With Jaime Laude, Evelyn Macairan, Alexis Romero
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