TERROR JITTERS: Cops ban backpacks inside Jaro cathedral, plaza

ALERT Police officers inspect every person who goes inside the Jaro Cathedral in Iloilo City, Feb. 1, 2019. The Police Regional Office-6 has been on alert since the Dinagyang Festival a week ago following the twin bombings of Jolo Cathedral in Sulu. The public is asked to cooperate to ensure a peaceful, orderly and secured conduct of Jaro Fiesta celebration. (Ricky D. Alejo)

BACKPACKS of any size, as well as large bags, will not be allowed at the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral and the Jaro public plaza on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019.

The Police Regional Office (PRO)-6 said the move is part of the stricter security measures for the celebration of the Jaro fiesta or the Feast of Our Lady of Candles.

As announced during the final security briefing, several other items will also be banned at the vicinity of Jaro cathedral and Jaro Plaza.

These include barbecue sticks and other pointed or sharp items, drinks in glass bottles, explosives, and other deadly weapons.

Superintendent Joem Malong, PRO-6 spokesperson, said that Pedestrian Screening Areas will be established in strategic areas to ensure that devotees and other churchgoers entering the cathedral and the plaza are free of the prohibited items.

Also, police will conduct random checks in areas outside the plaza.

The public is advised to disseminate and follow these measures to avoid future conflicts between churchgoers and the security personnel.

A few days ago, Davao City also imposed the banning of backpacks in churches following the twin bombings at a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu that killed at least 20 people and injured at least 97 others..

Meanwhile, Senior Inspector Shella Mae Sangrines, Iloilo City Police Office (ICPO) spokesperson, advised devotees, fiesta goers, and other visitors to leave their bags or backpacks before entering the said venues.

“If they insist on bringing their bags and backpacks, we would bar them from entering the cathedral and plaza,” she said.

But it would be a different thing for those carrying deadly weapons, firearms, or explosives.

“They would be arrested and detained, in accordance to our existing laws,” Sangrines said.

For the Jaro fiesta celebration, the ICPO will adopt the Major Event Security Framework to ensure everyone of their safety and security during the Jaro Fiesta.

The strict banning of big bags and backpacks was never implemented in previous Jaro fiesta celebrations.

A few days ago, though, there were unverified reports of the alleged presence of terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in Iloilo City.

The PRO-6 labeled the information as “fake news.”

The reports, that went viral over SMS or text messaging and different social media platforms, claimed that ISIS members are allegedly planning to launch attacks in the metropolis.

One of the messages claimed that ISIS members are already in Iloilo City and might plan to sow terror, in time for the Jaro fiesta.

But the PRO-6 denied the veracity of the report.



Tarpaulins were also spotted in some establishments in the metropolis urging the public to report any suspicious package or activity to the nearest police stations.

The tarpaulins, which said “if you seek something, say something,” also bear the telephone numbers where one could report or text any relevant information.

Sangrines shared the tarps in her personal Facebook account and wrote, “Bomb threats or suspicious items should always be taken seriously. How quickly and safely you react to a bomb threat could save lives, including your own. What should you do?”

Meanwhile, the ICPO conducted on Friday a simulation exercise (SIMEX) in preparation for today’s fiesta.

The cops’ preparedness was tested, particularly in responding to shooting scenarios and unattended or suspicious-looking baggage.