PUBLIC and private sector groups are now busy to give adequate assistance to travelers for the Holy Week celebration.

The Philippine Coast Guard has set up passenger assistance centers to anticipate the volume of passengers who will flock sea ports nationwide from March 29 to April 14.

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Coast Guard commandant Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said they have set hotlines and text lines to accommodate concerns from passengers. The landlines include 5278481 and 5273877 while the text line is 0917-7243682.

“Pwede tumawag kung may napupunang colorum na nagbibiyahe na di naman dapat (The public can call these numbers if they see colorum vessels that are not supposed to be at sea),” he told government station dzRB.

Tamayo said the Coast Guard wanted to avoid a repeat of sea disasters during the Christmas season last year.

In December last year, two maritime accidents occurred in Luzon that claimed lives and properties.

A wooden-hulled passenger vessel MV Catalyn B of San Nicolas Shipping Lines sank following a collision with the metal-hulled fishing vessel Anatalya off Limbones Island in Cavite just before dawn on Christmas Eve.

Also, roll-on, roll-off vessel MV Baleno 9 sank off Isla Verde Island in Batangas City last December 26.

Oplan Bantay-Lakbay 2010

For its part, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will implement “Oplan Bantay-Lakbay 2010” to ensure the peaceful observance of the Holy Week and the rest of the summer vacation.

PNP Chief Jesus Versoza has activated “Oplan Sumvac,” the nationwide security plan that aims to ensure the safe and secure travel of motorists and commuters in air, sea and land transportation.

“Oplan Bantay Lakbay involves mandatory security at airports, seaports, and bus terminals to guard against criminal and terrorist elements that may take advantage of the holiday rush,” PNP spokesman Leonardo Espina told Sun.Star in a text message.

Espina said the PNP will set up police assistance centers in “strategic locations,” such as the entire stretch of the Maharlika Highway from North to South Luzon, the Manila South Road from Manila to Bicol, the Manila East Road from Eastern Metro Manila to Northern Quezon, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway that passes through island provinces in Visayas and Mindanao and other major thoroughfares.

“The Highway Patrol Group (HPG) and Regional Police Offices will spearhead road safety inspections in these areas. Police Assistance Centers will serve as quick-reaction points for police emergency and medical response and advance command post for traffic management and road security operations,” he added.

The assistance centers are linked with Patrol 117 hotline, and the TXT PNP 2920 SMS hotline.

“In coastal resort areas, the Maritime Group and local PNP units are tasked to conduct seaborne patrols and other police security functions,” Espina added.

Espina said police stations in Metro Manila and other urban centers to conduct preventive patrols and neighborhood watch to guard against criminal elements that “may take advantage of unattended residences.”

All commercial establishments, shopping malls, places of worship, the MRT and LRT, and other “vital installations” will be placed under “intensive security coverage.

The Oplan Lakbay-Alalay covers the Holy Week, the fiesta and Flores de Mayo season in May, and the opening of classes on the first week of June.

Number coding scheme lifted

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Oscar Inocentes on Monday announced the suspension of the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) or the “number coding scheme” starting Tuesday.

The early lifting of the number coding scheme is implemented to give way to the expected mass exodus of vehicles, both public utility and private, to the provinces as the country celebrates the Lenten season.

“The suspension of the UVVRP is our way of ensuring the convenience of the public. This way, they can travel without any delay, and there will be enough public utility vehicles to ferry passengers all day long,” Inocentes said.

The agency is also taking part in the yearly “Lakbay Alalay” under the “Oplan Semana Santa” spearheaded by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to ensure the safety of motorists and passengers going to the provinces.

The MMDA Traffic and Transport Management Office (TTMO) headed by its Executive Director Angelito Vergel De Dios will deploy more than 1,000 traffic enforcers to man the major thoroughfares, particularly Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (Edsa) and the other exit points of Metro Manila.

According to Inocentes, majority of the traffic personnel will be assigned to the roads leading to provincial bus terminals and other vital installations to guarantee the safety of thousands of commuters and even pedestrians.

The operations of the TTMO, in close coordination with the local government units, will concentrate on crucial areas and traffic choke points such as Balintawak, McArthur Highway, Ortigas Avenue Extension, Sumulong Highway, Marcos Highway, Coastal Road, Roxas Boulevard, Alabang, Pasay, and Cubao.

At the same time, Inocentes said that the “nose in, nose out” policy on bus terminals will be in effect, thereby prohibiting bus drivers to maneuver their vehicles along Edsa. Also, they are not allowed to load and unload outside their respective terminals.

“I have ordered our enforcers to strictly enforce the rules so that there will be a smooth flow of traffic,” Inocentes said.

The agency’s Roadside Emergency Group will be on standby to provide roadside emergency service and assistance to the public.

The MMDA chief likewise appealed to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) management to deploy additional personnel to collect toll fees during rush hours to avoid traffic congestion.

Inocentes urged the public to cooperate and support the traffic enforcers and other authorities in order to guarantee a safe, peaceful, and meaningful Lent.

Fire safety

The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), in the meantime, was placed under a heightened alert to ensure a fire safety observance of the Holy Week.

Interior and Local Government Undersecretary for Public Safety Marius Corpus said he has already ordered BFP Director Rolando Bandilla Jr. to direct all regional and district directors and provincial and municipal fire marshals to implement their fire safety and inspection plans in their respective areas.

“As people have already started their traditional trek to the provinces for the Holy Week, our firefighters should remain vigilant and conduct inspection on transportation facilities to ensure the security and safety of the public,” Corpus stated.

He added that fire safety inspections should be done on “soft targets” like bus terminals, MRT and LRT stations, airports and seaports.

Bandilla said the BFP has already established assistance centers in land, sea and air transportation terminals and ports to assist travelers. The BFP’s Emergency Medical Service is also on alert for any health and other cases of emergency.

He ordered a 24-hour standby duty of BFP personnel on tourist destinations like Boracay, Puerto Galera, CamSur, Pagudpod, Subic and Bataan and other beaches and resort in the country.

Private sector initiatives

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) will provide first aid assistance and ambulance service on major roads for the Holy Week.

“All PNRC Chapters are enjoined to be on standby 24/7 on Holy Week to provide first aid and medical assistance to possible road accidents that may occur,” PRC Secretary Gwendolyn Pang said in a statement.

The PRC Safety Services Department will also put up tents, help desks and first aid stations along major highways and gas stations during Holy Week for immediate response in case of road accidents.

Beach resorts and major tourist spots will also be the focus of Safety Services as PRC put up Beach Patrol and First Aid Stations.

PRC partnered with oil companies Chevron and Petron by designation first aid stations and ambulances. .

Chevron Philippines has designated 40 Caltex gas stations in Northern and Southern Luzon that will be manned by two Red Cross volunteers with first aid station and ambulance.

For Petron partnership, PRC will provide ambulance service in stations located in Mabalacat and Floridablanca in Pampanga, and Star Tollway in Southern Tagalog. (Virgil Lopez/AH/Sunnex)