MANILA – With the yearly "Simbang Gabi" (dawn masses) set to start on Friday, the head of the National Capital Region Police District Office (NCRPO) has ordered its five district directors to tighten security around churches and residential areas to ensure public safety during the Yuletide season.

The five districts covered by the NCRPO are the Manila Police District (MPD), Quezon City Police District (QCPD), Northern Police District (NPD), Southern Police District (SPD), and Eastern Police District (EPD).

The traditional nine-day dawn masses will start on Dec. 16 and end on Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve). NCRPO chief, Maj. Gen. Jonnel Estomo, has directed the police force to enforce maximum police visibility around the churches in Metro Manila with the expected influx of people going to churches to attend the "Simbang Gabi" or "Misa de Gallo".

“This is an important Filipino tradition that we cannot afford to miss. We don't have many frets on our security preparation and implementation due to our existing S.A.F.E. (Seen, Appreciated and Felt) NCRPO strategy where our personnel are wide awake even during the unholy hours of the day. We are prepared to address any security issue that can possibly spoil this event,” Estomo said on Wednesday in a statement, adding that his order is in line with the Philippine National Police’s “Ligtas Paskuhan 2022” program.

He said more than 13,000 personnel were deployed in different areas in the metropolis including places of worship, malls, public markets, major thoroughfares, transportation hubs/terminals, and other places of convergence. This started last Dec. 1 to cover various aspects of the police operation, heighten police presence and respond to other necessary measures for an orderly, peaceful, and safe yuletide season.

Police Assistance Desks (PADs) were also established near the church entrances to immediately attend to any emergency or untoward incident.

Estomo reminded the Metro cops to maximize their presence in the field to prevent crime and terrorism, and to continue to collaborate and open their communication for better coordination.

"Despite everything we have been through this year, let's not forget to thank God for all the blessings He has given us. In the coming year, may we continue to be the channel of the blessing of peace by keeping the people of Metro Manila safe and secure against any form of criminality and injustice,” said Estomo.

Meanwhile, PNP chief, Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., ordered full alert status starting on Dec. 16 to ensure the safety of people and churchgoers.

“Full alert will start on Friday, coinciding with the opening of Simbang Gabi. I have directed our policemen to be visible in churches for the Simbang Gabi. They should be visible so that if police response is needed by our countrymen, they are ready…They should be ready, on call, anytime,” Azurin told reporters at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Azurin said he has already instructed police units to beef up their presence in areas where people frequent, including malls.

Azurin said policemen are allowed to go on Christmas break but said they should be on call to report anytime if their services are needed.

“We will require our personnel, where they are on vacation, to report their presence to the nearest police station so if police response or additional police assistance is needed in that area, they can help,” the country's top cop said.

For her part, PNP spokeswoman, Col. Jean Fajardo, said police visibility will be increased in churches, malls and restaurants where people may go after attending the dawn mass.

“Our chief PNP wants enough number of (PNP) personnel who will be assigned and doing patrol in the vicinity of churches,” said Fajardo.

Fajardo said more policemen will be deployed in transport terminals due to the anticipated increase of passengers during the season.

She said the PNP has not monitored “any serious or credible threat” to disrupt the celebration of the Yuletide season.

“But of course, we are not going to be complacent,” said Fajardo, adding that police units will be ready to respond to any threat. (PNA)