Catholic Philippines steps up security for All Saints’ Day

MANILA, November 1, 2010 (AFP) – The Philippines stepped up security as millions across the mainly Catholic country headed to cemeteries to honour the dead on All Saints’ Day Monday.

President Benigno Aquino said security forces had been placed on heightened alert following the interception in Britain and Dubai of alleged parcel bombs on planes bound for the United States in the last few days.

However he added that while these plots were a “cause for concern,” there was no immediate threat “from foreign sources”.

Authorities were concentrating on domestic groups during the massive observance, in which Filipinos flock to the graves of relatives.

Authorities are particularly concentrating on the perpetrators of a bus bombing that left nine dead two weeks ago in the country’s restive south, Aquino said.

“So far all of our intelligence sources tell us that if there are threats, we have already stepped up security after the bus bombing,” Aquino said.

However “vulnerabilities” remained, he said, adding: “We are looking primarily at domestic threats.”

Philippine Muslim militants who operate in the south of the country are known to have links with foreign groups, including the Southeast Asian arm of Al-Qaeda.

Police at cemeteries around Manila appeared to be concentrating as much on possible low-level disorder, confiscating pointed objects that could be used as weapons and alcoholic beverages. Bomb sniffer dogs were also deployed.

The Red Cross said it had set up more than 270 first aid stations around 200 major cemeteries in the capital.

Police were also deployed at air and sea ports, which have seen an upsurge of passenger traffic for the yearly pilgrimage to the provinces.

In Manila’s South Cemetery, 77-year-old Renato Pilas played down the security threats.

“This is an annual visit to the cemetery and also a celebration of life,” Pilas told AFP while repainting the tomb of two of his sons who died when still boys more than 40 years ago.

“I come here every year with my wife, and spend the day like a picnic,” he said. “I am at home with the dead.”

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