Hosts get serious with 2-to-1 security ratio

Traffic in Metro Manila crawls at a pace of 4.9 minutes per kilometre, according to the Google-owned transport app Waze. Tight security is likely to result in even worse traffic conditions during the SEA Games. ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL
Traffic in Metro Manila crawls at a pace of 4.9 minutes per kilometre, according to the Google-owned transport app Waze. Tight security is likely to result in even worse traffic conditions during the SEA Games. ST PHOTO: RAUL DANCEL

The Philippines is beefing up security arrangements for athletes who will be participating in the 30th edition of the upcoming SEA Games.

Security officials are deploying close to 20,000 policemen, soldiers, first responders and traffic enforcers to ward off attacks, possibly from Muslim extremists. An estimated 10,000 athletes from 11 countries and their support staff will be in taking part in the Games.

"We still need augmentation," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on Monday.

He said the government has so far not come across any plot by militants or terrorist organisations to disrupt the biennial sporting event, set for Nov 30 to Dec 11.

"But it is better for us to be over-prepared than under-prepared," he said.

He added security forces remained on the lookout for extremists trying to hatch plans to avenge the death of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by disrupting the Games.

"That is part of our precautionary measures," he said.

Mr Lorenzana said earlier that al-Baghdadi's death was just a "temporary setback". The ISIS leader's followers in the Philippines could still mount "sympathy attacks" across the country.

ISIS militants who fought in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as extremists across Asia, have managed to slip into the Philippines. They are said to be indoctrinating and training local militants in suicide attacks.

Last week, the military reported that two suspected suicide bombers, both Egyptians, were killed at a checkpoint, as they were purportedly making their way on a motorcycle towards a target on the island of Jolo, in Sulu province.

Mr Lorenzana said security would be "very tight" around venues where the Games events would be held and where the athletes would be training. "We will not allow just anyone to get inside these venues," he said.

He added that more than 120 athletes and coaches from the Philippines are themselves soldiers who are trained to deal with any threat.

Metro Manila police chief Debold Sinas said in a news conference last week that security forces would be placed on "heightened alert" two days before the Games begin. However, events in some sports will start as early as Nov 24.

The opening ceremony will be held in Bocaue town, 40km north of the capital Manila. But the main venues for the events will be in Metro Manila and at the 9,500ha New Clark City sports complex, 100km north of the capital.

The organisers are reportedly still grappling with uncompleted facilities and technical problems less than three weeks before the Games proper begins.

A big concern has been Metro Manila's horrendous traffic that could get even worse during the Games. It already takes roughly two hours to commute around the capital. There are more than 20 events scheduled in 12 venues in Metro Manila.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2019, with the headline 'Hosts get serious with 2-to-1 security ratio'. Print Edition | Subscribe