TACLOBAN CITY—Despite the threat of a stormy weekend and tight security, thousands of pilgrims have started to arrive in the cities of Palo and Tacloban to await the arrival of Pope Francis, who is scheduled to plane in early morning here today to be with the survivors of super typhoon Yolanda, which hit Eastern Visyas two years ago.
Eastern Visayas Regional Director Supt. Asher Dolina said government security forces in the province are already in place to secure the visiting pontiff, his entourage and the people who will attend the various activities in Palo and Tacloban.
“The joint forces of the government are already in place to ensure the safety and security of Pope Francis, his entourage, the pilgrims and the public,” Dolina said.
On Friday, at least a hundred pilgrims from the nearby town of Basey, Samar arrived in Tacloban and gathered for a vigil on the eve of the Pope’s visit.
The Archbishop of Palo, meanwhile, reminded the public who wish to take part in the papal visit activities to observe some rules.
These include not bringing bottled water, umbrellas, non-transparent backpacks , deadly weapons, sharp objects, intoxicating liquor, pets and dangerous drugs, among others.
Free raincoats and water will be given to the pilgrims in designated areas.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also urged the pilgrims to be “clean and green” and dispose their of their garbage and wasters properly.
Palo Archbishop John Du enjoined everyone to join the “historic event”, saying that this is “a rare opportunity to experience mercy and compassion of God through the Vicar of Christ, the Pope.”
Edith Dacillo, a 7-month pregnant mother, and 67-year old Narcisa Ragaodao in Palo, both said they didn’t want ot miss the papal visit, this even if it means braving the big crowd with their conditions.
“I am already old. This could be my only opportunity to see the pope, our pope, in person,” Ragaodao said.
Dacillo, on the other hand, said she wanted to be part of the “historic event.”
“Pope’s coming is a blessing. I want my child to learn about this,” she said.
PO1 Leny Espanola of Negros Occidental one of the over 9,000 security personnel deployed by the government to secure the streets for the pope’s motorcade, said that she “felt blessed to be part of this event.”
“This is my first time to be here in Tacloban. I am happy of my short assignment here, moreover, I will have the first opportunity to see the Pope in person. It will be a privilege to secure the Pope,” she said.
Over 60,000 pilgrims from different vicariates in Visayas and Mindanao have earlier signified to join the papal mass in Tacloban airport, yet the Archdiocese was confident the number will swell on Saturday.
A total of 475 national, local and foreign journlists had been accredited to cover the various activities in Tacloban and Palo.
A stormy weekend, however, threatens Pope Francis’ visit, as Leyte remained one of the 11 areas in Luzon and Visayas still under storm signal no. 1 due to tropical storm ‘Amang’ (international name Mekkhala).
Aside from Leyte, other areas placed under the same warning were Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Albay, Burias Island, Sorsogon, Masbate (including Ticao Island), Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Samar and Biliran.
Amang was estimated at 531 kilometers east of Borongan City, but the weather bureau, however, said the storm continued to decelerate while moving westward at 15 kph.
It is forecast to hit Northern Samar tomorrow evening and will not make landfall in Eastern Visayas.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said heavy to intense rainfall of 7.5-20 millimeters per hour is anticipated within the 300-km diameter of Amang. Meanwhile, a group of nuns from the Sisters’ Association in Mindanao (SAMIN) on Friday accused the police of harassment, saying that they “were stopped and held up for an hour” in Tanauan, Leyte while they were en route to a candle-lighting and liturgical activity in San Jose district in Tacloban city on Thursday afternoon.
“The police peppered us with questions and accusations. They claimed we do not have proper documents and coordination with the Archdiocese when even the Archbishop John Du knows of our mercy mission here in Leyte. We were even accused of being New People’s Army elements hiding in nun’s clothes,” said Sister Noemi Degala, executive director of SAMIN.
Degala added that the militarized security conditions have been widely reported in the media, “but this brazen harassment of religious sisters takes the cake. We are not armed communist revolutionaries, and we are most certainly not terrorists.”
The SAMIN, together with partner lay groups such as the Bulig Alang sa Mindanao (BALSA Mindanao) and the Mindanao-wide indigenous people’s network KALUMARAN and in coordination with the People’s Committee to Welcome the Pope in Eastern Visayas (People’s Welcome – EV), journeyed to Leyte to learn and practice the social teachings of Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) that he is expected to deliver to Yolanda survivors.
SAMIN members, religious sisters from various congregations, had immersed themselves with Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)-affected communities in Tanauan and Palo towns before handing over donated hand tractors to local people’s organizations. They will also take part in the meeting of the religious with Pope Francis in the afternoon of January 17.
“Might we remind the despotic security forces of the Aquino administration that the Holy Father himself said that the concern for the poor is Gospel, not communism. Like Pope Francis, we are shepherds who seek to be with our flock and to smell of sheep in doing so—that is, to know and live and uplift the conditions of the poor, especially the Yolanda survivors. Why are the Aquino government’s police brutes so intent to prevent us from putting to practice what the Pope himself has preached?” Degala said.
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Eastern Visayas chapter (BAYAN-EV), a member of the People’s Welcome – EV, joined the SAMIN in condemning the militarized and repressive security in Leyte, noting the ‘soft’ economic violence as well.
“A grand total of P30 million was spent by the Aquino government on the pomp, pageantry and overkill security for the Pope’s visit. That could have been P30 million well-spent for the still unaddressed needs of Yolanda survivors, but instead has pay rolled for the estimated 20,000 police and military forces who have swept the homes and establishments along the Pope’s route here in Leyte and imposed various violations to the civil rights of the residents there,” said Rey Miranda, secretary general of BAYAN – EV.
Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr of the Presidential Communications Operations Office however told Manila Standard on Friday that he “will refer the report to Philippine National Police for comment.”
In Palo, the Pope will have dinner with 30 pre-selected poor typhoon survivors and will meet with priests and nuns inside the Palo Cathedral.