While downplaying fears that the Islamic State, more commonly known as ISIS, has extended its reach to the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino promised safety for Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines in January, following assassination threats from the extremist group.
Aquino has ordered security officials to step up their efforts to prevent ISIS and its Philippine affiliates from disrupting Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines in January.
As head of state on an official visit and an apostolic mission, the Pope will be guarded by the Presidential Security Group.
“Whatever security I get from the PSG, I want to see them double their efforts, especially for the head of the Holy Mother Church,” Aquino told reporters in New York on Thursday. “There shouldn’t be any incident while he’s in our country,” he said.
Previously, Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang, Jr. gave assurances that Pope Francis will be safe when he visits the Philippines next year. “We are preparing a very elaborate security plan for our Pope. We are so elated and awaiting the visit of the Pope,” Catapang said in briefing on September 2.
Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to the Philippines, the largest Catholic nation in Asia, from January 15 to 19. During his visit, he will fly to Tacloban province to meet with victims of last year’s destructive Typhoon Haiyan.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has expressed hope that Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines would make a difference in the lives of Filipinos and the country. “The pastoral visit of Pope Francis focused on Mercy and Compassion would certainly offer vast opportunities to experience grace, to hear callings, to disturb comfort zones, to value the poor, to renew society, to care for creation and to live honorably,” Tagle wrote in a post on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
In 1995, authorities reported a foiled plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Philippines.
In the same interview Wednesday, President Aquino expressed support for the United States’ strikes on ISIS and said the Philippines is ready to support the U.S. in its military campaign. He also said that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario had a scheduled meeting with some State Department officials “to get more details exactly if they are asking for assistance and what manner of assistance.”
The Philippines has a history of support for the U.S., such as when Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, signed the country up in 2003 to George W. Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” against Iraq.