Pope’s flight may be diverted to Mactan

Sun.Star file photo

CEBU -- While a weather disturbance moves into the Philippine area of responsibility, government officials ensured that the airport and seaports are secure when Pope Francis is in the country.

Also, they made sure that the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) is ready for circumstances, like bad weather, that might bring the Pope here.

Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Emilio Abaya and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin led the inspection of the MCIA facilities Tuesday morning. A security briefing with the police, military and port officials in Cebu followed.

Abaya said there are still no changes in the itinerary for the papal visit, but there is a chance that his flight will be diverted to Cebu if a weather disturbance keeps their airplane from landing at the Tacloban City airport on Saturday.

The inspection was not only meant to secure the MCIA in time for the papal visit, but also to keep Cebu safe during the Sinulog celebration.

“Cebu is a major hub so we are checking on the airport and the seaports to eliminate all possible threats and any distractions both to the Sinulog and Tacloban, and of course the activities of the Pope,” Abaya told reporters after the briefing.

The briefing, which lasted close to an hour, was held in the VIP lounge of the MCIA and was also attended by officials of the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority and GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC), the manager of the airport passenger terminals.

“The itinerary is very clear… Cebu is not included. It is clear that all the Pope’s activities will be in Manila and Tacloban. There is no activity here… sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” Abaya said.

Abaya pointed out, though, that the MCIA is an alternative airport in case of foul weather, so the possibility that the Pope will be in Cebu “is only in the event of foul weather.”



Visit starts

Pope Francis will arrive in Manila late afternoon tomorrow, January 15. On Saturday morning, he will fly to Tacloban and stay there for five hours to be with survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. He will go back to Manila in the afternoon and will leave the country on Monday.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, January 13, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said that the tropical depression outside the Philippine area of responsibility was estimated at 1,690 kilometers east of Mindanao, with maximum winds of 55 kilometers per hour (kph). It is forecast to move west at 19 kph.

In its weekly outlook, the weather bureau said it expected the tropical depression to enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility tomorrow, Thursday. It said it expected the weather system to bring heavy to occasionally intense rain and gusts over Bicol and Eastern Visayas on Friday and Saturday, including Tacloban and Palo, Leyte, which the Pope is scheduled to visit on Saturday.

When asked for his assessment of MCIA’s security plan, Abaya said he found everything okay.

“We met with people involved with the security. We are doubling up measures like having no-fly zones and we are issuing a notice to mariners and to airmen to limit especially the small aircrafts of flying schools,” he said.

Vigilance

In a separate interview, GMCAC chief executive adviser Andrew Acquaah Harrison said security measures are already in place to secure their facilities and airport users during the Sinulog and while the Pope is in the country.

“As you can see, there are several checkpoints and vehicles are being checked. We’re also ensuring a high level of vigilance during this period because it’s the Sinulog festival, there’s a lot more travel going on and so there’s a high level of alertness here at the airport,” he said.

Harrison, who also attended the security briefing, said that more flights may be cancelled and there will be other restrictions at the airport in the event that bad weather forces the Pope’s contingent to proceed to Cebu.

“We’ve not been advised of any stopover. However, should the Pope decide to do so and we’re blessed by the Almighty God, we will be ready for the Pope’s visit,” said Harrison. (LRC/Sun.Star Cebu)
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