Security tight for first presidential debate in Cagayan de Oro

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The Cagayan de Oro city police on Friday, February 19, started cordoning off the area around Capitol University, where the first presidential debate since 1992 will be held.

City Police Director Faro Antonio Olaguera said that a total of 6 police platoons will be deployed to secure the debate on Sunday, February 21, with reinforcement from the Regional Public Safety Battalion and the Bukidnon Police Public safety battalion.

A single police battalion consists of 34 police personnel.

Olaguera said that a dedicated Civil Disturbance Management team will be deployed for crowd control, especially inside the university's gymnasium, where at least 1,500 supporters of the presidential candidates will be watching the debate as it unfolds.

Earlier, the Commission on Elections confirmed that all 5 presidential aspirants will be attending the debate: Liberal Party standard bearer Manuel Roxas II, United Nationalist Alliance standard bearer Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senators Grace Poe and Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Olaguera said the police will be strictly moderating the entrance of the debate audience into the university.

“Without the entrance stubs, they cannot enter the campus,” Olaguera said.

“We have the possible next president of the Republic inside, so we cannot take these security tasks lightly,” he added.

Compartmentalized gym

During the dry run held Friday, Olaguera said the police decided to divide the gymnasium and separate each candidate's supporters away from each other.

This was done to prevent a repeat of a 2013 incident, in which a fistfight erupted between supporters of re-electionist Congressman Rufus Rodriguez and City Councilor Ian Nacaya during a congressional debate in the city.

“We want to prevent ugly incidents between supporters, we don’t want a repeat of the 2013 here,” Olaguera said.

Police will also be implementing a full body search, and will allow the audience to bring only tarpaulin placards. Glass, metal materials, and sticks made of wood or plastic will be confiscated.

Olaguera said that they are expecting different groups to stage protests outside the university, while hundreds of supporters are also expected to gather outside the campus grounds.

Aside from police presence, support services such as ambulances and fire trucks from the city will also be put on standby.

Support from the army

Meanwhile, the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army has tasked the 58th Infantry Battalion to oversee security of the candidates' route from the airport to the campus and to their respective lodgings.

The army will also deploy a full platoon as a support component to the Philippine National Police. It will also deploy its Explosive Ordnance Disposal and canine units to help secure the perimeter of the university.

Captain Krisnen Peter Sarsagat, acting spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, said that the army is helping out in securing the safety of the debates, the candidates, and their supporters. –