Hong Kong Police Force is taking no chances with this week’s visit of Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial Philippine president.
Heavily armed counterterrorism units will patrol the streets, a rarely used anti-explosives vehicle capable of jamming radio signals will be deployed, as will members of the elite VIP Protection Unit.
Duterte, who arrives late on Tuesday and is considered a relatively high-risk target because of the extrajudicial killings he has sanctioned at home, will also be accompanied by a significant police presence wherever he goes.
“The threat level to Duterte himself is relatively high, so we will mount a security operation to protect him,” a government source said on Monday, stressing that the city’s terrorism threat level itself remained “moderate”.
The source added: “Elite members of the Counter Terrorism Response Unit are expected to make a rare showing and carry heavy weapons, including MP5 machine guns and SIG 516 assault rifles, to patrol the area wherever the president goes.”
Duterte’s visit, his second in 10 months, comes amid an ongoing row surrounding the early recall of Jalilo Dela Torre, the country’s former labour attaché to Hong Kong. His removal two years into a three-year term proved unpopular with a large segment of the Philippine community in the city, and there are expected to be protests during the president’s visit.
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The Post reported on Saturday that it was Duterte himself who ordered an investigation into complaints filed against Dela Torre to the Office of the President, according to the country’s Secretary of Labour and Employment Silvestre Bello.
A fact-finding team from the department was sent to Hong Kong in February, which recommended his recall to the home office in Manila to “temporarily shed light on the issues against him, and afford him the opportunity to explain his side to the undersigned, and the Office of the President”.
Duterte, who turned 73 last month and is famous for launching foul-mouthed rants against anyone who disagrees with him, will arrive in Hong Kong in his presidential jet late on Tuesday night after holding bilateral talks with President Xi Jinping in the fringes of the Boao Forum for Asia, in Hainan province.
Philippine media, quoting the country’s Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Manuel Antonio Teehankee, reported on Friday that Xi and Duterte were expected to discuss “violent extremism, terrorism, cross-border traffic of illegal narcotics’’ at the talks.
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After arriving, Duterte is expected to be escorted to a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel by a heavily armed motorcade, which will be led by the anti-explosives vehicle from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau.
The president and his party are believed to be staying in the Tsim Sha Tsui area throughout their visit, which ends on Thursday night.
Snipers from the Special Duties Unit will also be on standby for a security operation that the Post understands will rival those taken for the president’s visit last May, when he held a meeting with Filipino community leaders, mostly Duterte loyalists, who had waited for about four hours to see their Tatay Digong, which is Duterte’s nickname, meaning Father Digong, appear in person.
This time Duterte will hold a meet and greet on Thursday night for some 2,000 invited Filipinos at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
However, the choice of the venue and the date of the meeting has raised the hackles of the city’s vocal Filipino leaders.
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Eman Villanueva, chairman of Bayan Hong Kong and Macau, told the Post that if they had tried to hold a protest outside Kai Tak terminal, it might be difficult to gather as many people because of the date, time and location.
“But I think the consulate is trying to gather as many [people] as they can and they extended the deadline [to sign up for the meeting with Duterte] to last Friday,” Villanueva told the Post.
“The location is too far and isolated and with the kind of security arrangements in place, OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] cannot just suddenly appear and expect to be allowed inside. The same thing happened the last time he was here. Lots of seats were unoccupied, though there were people at the airport lobby who were not allowed inside.”
While new Consul-General Antonio Morales said the terminal was the only option because of the short notice given to the consulate to book a venue, it is out of the way for many Philippine workers in Hong Kong.
As a result, the Philippine consulate announced on Monday afternoon that a free shuttle bus will be waiting at Yau Tong MTR station to take people to the terminal on Shing Fung Road in Kowloon City.
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The consulate also has informed the community ways of going to Kai Tak terminal, through green minibus No 86, KMB bus 5R, and a ferry service in North Point to and from Kwun Tong via Kai Tak Runway Park Pier. Taxi ranks and private car parking spaces are also available.
The rest of the president’s itinerary has not been announced, as Wednesday will be free for the president and his entourage. From his previous visit in May last year, Duterte is likely to meet with Filipino businessmen and some of his avid supporters.
With the Philippines facing a crucial senatorial race in May 2019, where the country will vote in six of the 12-member upper house of the bicameral legislature, Duterte is hoping to ensure that his party’s candidates are elected into the senate.
From Hong Kong, Duterte is expected to return to Davao City on the island of Mindanao, where he spends nearly half of his time while running the country. The former lawyer and prosecutor was mayor for 20 years before being catapulted to the national leadership.