Holy Week exodus begins in Philippines

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - As the exodus from Metro Manila began, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III today inspected ports, airports and bus terminals to ensure the safety of the travellers.

On the road, residents have been leaving in droves for their hometowns, resulting in heavy traffic on major thoroughfares, including Edsa and the South Luzon Expressway.

Others are leaving for the beaches and tourist sites to take advantage of the Holy Week break.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has suspended the number coding scheme starting March 27 (Holy Wednesday) until April 1 (Monday).

On Tuesday, drivers and their conductors were subjected to random drug and alcohol tests in provincial bus terminal stations in the metropolis.

MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino on Friday led the teams conducting the tests in bus terminal stations in Cubao in Quezon City and on Taft Avenue in Pasay City as part of the agency's campaign to ensure that bus drivers and their conductors were in good shape to safely transport passengers.

"We want to be certain that bus drivers travelling to the provinces have not taken illegal drugs. Otherwise, we won't let them take over the wheels," Tolentino told reporters.

So far, about 30 drivers have undergone an alcohol test using a breath analyser.

Positive for drugs

Only one driver (of Victory Liner) tested positive for alcohol in Pasay City.

The driver said he had a few drinks before going to work but he told Tolentino that his duty would start late in the evening so he had time to sleep it off.

The random tests will run for two days from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The MMDA has deployed around 1,800 personnel to man the major thoroughfares and entry and exit points as part of its Metro Alalay Semana Santa 2013 programme,

Most of the traffic personnel are assigned to roads leading to provincial bus terminals and other vital installations such as airports, seaports and pilgrimage sites.

President's visit

President Aquino visited North Harbour at past 9am. He inspected a shipping company's two ticketing booths, check-in counters, help desk areas (medical team and security help desk) and passengers' pre-boarding facilities, including X-ray machines.

Officials briefed the president on the initiatives that were being implemented to make the harbour's facilities at par with international standards.

He boarded the "Princess of the South", a passenger vessel docked at Pier 12, and checked on the passengers. The ship, which has a total capacity of 2,000 passengers, later left for Cebu.

Simplify signs

Following the inspection, Aquino told reporters in an ambush interview that he had brought to the attention of port and transport officials some "issues" over certain emergency procedures for passengers of ships and ferries.

"On the ship itself...there are signs that tell you where you're supposed to go (during emergencies), but all are (written) in English," the president noted.

He ordered officials to simplify the instruction signs.

The president proceeded to the departure section of Terminal 4, the old Manila Domestic Airport, at around 10:15am. He underwent the same procedures as an air passenger to see for himself the services at the terminal.

He spoke to several waiting passengers as he joined the queue at the ticketing booth, baggage X-ray area, check-in customer counter, and pre-boarding gate of Southeast Asian Airlines and Zest Airways. Most of the passengers encountered by the President were bound for Davao, Kalibo, Legazpi and Boac.

He also passed by the customs area and inspected banned hand-carry items confiscated from the passengers such as umbrellas and large-sized lotion bottles.

At the pre-boarding area, the president shook the hands of passengers, and spoke to a mother carrying a child. Other passengers brought out their phone cameras and tablets to take snapshots.

At Terminal 3, Aquino and his entourage also inspected the passenger and baggage counters at the domestic departure and arrival sections.

Come early

From Naia, the president proceeded to the Victory Liner Bus terminal on Edsa, Pasay City, to inspect security preparations for Filipinos travelling to Southern Tagalog, Bicol and beyond.

The Manila International Airport Authority, operator of Naia, called on passengers to arrive early in the airport and to expect heavy traffic on roads bound for the Naia complex. Passengers were also called to check with their airlines for cancellations and re-booking.

Traffic jam

His huge convoy, however, caused a traffic jam on the stretch of Edsa from Makati City to Pasay City.

The president appeared satisfied with the measures being implemented by the MMDA to ensure the safety of passengers travelling to the provinces.

The Philippine Coast Guard, for its part, has placed on heightened alert all its stations and detachments nationwide to ensure safe sea travel during the Holy Week, according to the PCG spokesperson.

Lt. Cmdr. Armand Balilo said an undisclosed number of Coast Guard personnel had joined their counterparts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in deploying covert security and intelligence personnel in various ports and on interisland ships.

Aside from sea marshals, emergency response teams and help desks, K-9 units will be fielded by the Coast Guard.

Balilo, also chief of the PCG public affairs office, reminded those travelling by sea not to take "fly-by-night," or colourum interisland vessels.

Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, Coast Guard commandant, has warned that "fly-by-night shipping vessels do not carry insurance for their passengers".

"Most of them also have defective life rafts and life vests," he pointed out.

The Coast Guard Action centre (with hotline 0917-PCG-DOTC) "will be open 24/7 to respond to questions and emergency calls," Isorena added.

Boracay

Commodoure Athelo Yba?ez, Western Visayas Coast Guard commander, said Coast Guard personnel had enhanced the inspection of passenger motorboats and ferry boats, especially those going to and coming from major vacation sites like Guimaras and Boracay Islands.

The inspections involved the checking of life jackets, fire-fighting equipment and other safety devices.

Ybanez said the Coast Guard would also ensure that there would be no overloading of boats and ships in ports in the region.

Search and rescue teams are being readied to respond to accidents, including drowning incidents in beach destinations.

With reports from Jerry E. Esplanada in Manila and Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas

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