Noy and the other drivers who suffered the same fate slept where they found shade. He shook his head as he spoke about how tight the security measures were today that the “Sparrows” (as the urban liquidation squad of the New People’s Army was called in the 1980s), would not be able to get near Ms Arroyo.
Like any Presidential visit, security was tight. But security was tighter this time given the possibilities of protest actions in any of the four areas she visited today – Sirawan Beach Elementary School in Toril; Buffet Palace in Matina; Bankerohan Bridge; and Grand Regal Hotel.
Militant groups were unable to stage a picket or “lightning rallies.” Bayan’s Jeppie Ramada told MindaNews their convoy of five vehicle en route to Grand Regal were stopped by policemen just two street corners away from the Iglesia Filipino Independiente along Torres Street. The “inspection” effectively delayed their movement, so that by the time they were nearing Grand Regal, Ms Arroyo and party were already bound for the airport.
Ramada noted that today’s Presidential visit was the most tightly secured.
Helicopters hovered to monitor the President’s vehicle route. Policemen were visible in strategic areas, particularly those along the Presidential route.
But nothing could beat the security leading to the grand ballroom of Grand Regal Hotel, where Ms Arroyo was scheduled to speak at 2 pm.
Security personnel guarding the stairway leading to the second floor and at the reception to the ballroom kept asking reporters for “security pass” even as reporters were already wearing the “MEDIA” identification card accredited, cleared and signed by the Media Accreditation and Relations Office (MARO) of the Office of the Press Secretary and the Philippine Information Agency regional office.
A day earlier, at the briefing for media a the PIA regional office, LMP event organizers said they would not be able to accommodate everyone from the media due to space constraints but if there were 25 journalists inside the ballroom, the same number will be allowed just outside, at the corridor. PIA regional director Efren Elbanbuena told them to provide speakers outside the ballroom for the reporters.
The organizers also told media to be there at least one hour before as accommodation would be on a first-come, first served basis.
But arriving at least two hours before did not turn out to be a guarantee for entry into the ballroom as there was no one in the registration desk that the media could ask the “security passes” from, and the LMP staff was busy attending to the mayor-delegates.
At 1:07 p.m. security personnel outside the grand ballroom asked those without “security pass” to leave as they needed to “clear” the area.
The President was about to arrive.
On the ground floor, reporters wearing Malacanang-issued “MEDIA” identification card were barred from going up to the ballroom.
Ms Arroyo stepped into the hotel at 1:23 p.m. smiling as she shook hands with people lining up at the lobby.
At least 15 journalists, including this reporter, the publisher of SunStar Davao, reporters from SunStar Davao, Mindanao Times, Davao Today, Philippine Daily Inquirer, waited initially at the bar near the stairway and later just outside the main entrance where some reporters, saying it is “useless anyway,” tore their Malacanang-issued “MEDIA” card. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)