GenSan bans backpacks for 2013 Tuna Festival celeb

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/14 August)—As part of the intensified security measures for the annual Tuna Festival and the city’s 45th foundation anniversary, the city government announced Wednesday a ban on backpacks in response to the bomb attacks that recently hit parts of Mindanao.

At a press conference here, city hall and security officials appealed to the public and visitors who will join the festivities to cooperate with the security measures being put in place to ensure the safety of merrymakers.

Mayor Ronnel Rivera said that individuals carrying backpacks will not be allowed inside the oval plaza, where major highlights of the festivities are slated to be held.

Davao City earlier banned the carrying of backpacks inside concert venues for the Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival on August 16.

Authorities said that backpacks can be used to carry bombs.

Rivera said that security was among the major issues being addressed by the city government as the 15th Tuna Festival and the 45th Charter Anniversary of the city draw near.

On August 5, a car bomb exploded in Cotabato City, about four hours by land travel from here, killing eight people and wounding 40 others.

Last July 26, eight people were also killed and 46 others wounded in an explosion at Limketkai Center in Cagayan de Oro City, about 10 hours drive away from here.

This city, dubbed the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines,” will mark its charter anniversary on September 5.

Celebrations for the Tuna Festival, however, will run until September 9, which will be capped by the “Tuna Pasiklaban Streetdancing Competition” in the afternoon and the evening “Disco Sa Kalye.”

Rivera said that the ban on backpacks has been discussed during the security cluster meetings for the 2013 Tuna Festival.

Senior Supt. Roel Berango, the city police’s deputy chief for operations, noted that stricter security measures will be implemented starting Wednesday afternoon by putting up checkpoints in the four major entry and exit points in the city.

“The security checkpoints will work similar to what Davao City is doing,” he said, referring to Davao’s practice of flagging down private and public vehicles entering its city for inspection.

Aside from the checkpoints, he said that there will be mobile patrols that will do the rounds in the city as part of increasing police visibility for the duration of the festival.

Berango said that at least 500 police and military personnel, including village watchmen, will be deployed to secure the activities lined up for the entirety of the tuna festival.

The police official disclosed that the intelligence community has been monitoring “daily threats of bomb attacks but GenSan is not a target.”

From September 5 to 9, policemen in the city will not be allowed to take leave of absences except those in extreme personal situation like sickness, Berango said.

Councilor Franklin Gacal, chair of the city council’s committee on peace and order, suggested that if the threat is really imminent, organizers should cancel the festival.

“Let’s not sacrifice the safety of the people. If the festival is canceled, I think people will understand because that is for their safety,” he said.

But organizers said there is no reason to cancel the festival as of Wednesday noon, although they took note of Gacal’s suggestion. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)