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 Makati: No Fly Zone

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Jhuly
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PostSubject: Makati: No Fly Zone   March 3rd 2008, 5:24 pm

MANILA, Philippines -- A virtual security buffer shielded the Makati Central
Business District for three hours Friday after the Air Transportation
Office (ATO) declared the area a no-fly zone as thousands gathered for
one of the largest rallies staged against President Gloria Macapagal
Arroyo.

The directive effectively prevented the ABS-CBN helicopter Skypatrol
from flying over the area for a full, aerial view of the size of the
crowd at its thickest.

Citing “security reasons,” the ATO issued a notice to airmen barring
flights over the Makati business district from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the
request of the Philippine National Police, said ATO Executive Director
Daniel Dimagiba.

“That's for security reasons, so that no one would suspect that
those flying by are taking pictures, doing surveillance to identify
them (protesters). It might just be misinterpreted,” Dimagiba said when
reached by phone Friday afternoon.

Such an order was never issued in previous rallies against Arroyo,
most notably massive protests in July 2005 and February 2006. Air
traffic controllers, meanwhile, could not remember a similar notice
being issued in recent years, not even at the height of protests
against then President Joseph Estrada.

The ATO Manila Control Tower said Makati's air space is ordinarily
restricted because of tall buildings in the central business district,
but helicopters are allowed over the area as well as to land and take
off from numerous helipads.

Dimagiba said the PNP operations office sent him a request to issue
a “no-fly zone directive in the Makati business district and its
vicinity,” what the police called “the projected rally area” in its
letter.

The ATO readily granted the request and imposed the flight ban,
saying it was a “precautionary measure” to prevent the public from
being suspicious about flights over the area. Besides, he said,
aircraft light enough to fly over the CBD -- mostly choppers -- could
fly only before sunset.

A copy of the ATO letter to the Philippine National Police
directorate for operations which the Philippine Daily Inquirer obtained
showed that the aviation office granted the PNP request on the same day
it was sent by fax on February 27. The letter, signed by Dimagiba, was
addressed to Chief Superintendent Silverio Alarcio Jr., acting
operations director.

The ATO directive hampered the coverage of media network ABS-CBN,
which planned to send the chopper Skypatrol over the CBD area for a
complete view of the rally site.

“We wanted to show the extent of the crowd estimate. It would have
given us a clearer view of where the picket ends. We have a camera at
Ayala Tower but we can't pull out, we don't know where the [crowd]
ends,” said Chari Villa, head of the network's news gathering team.

ABS-CBN got wind of the directive through a copy of the notice the
ATO sent to Skypatrol's hangar at the general aviation area of the
Manila Domestic Airport, Villa told the Inquirer.
“I was surprised that they gave us that order. We are usually able
to cover in that area... we did in previous rallies,” said Villa.

Ricky Velasco, Skypatrol's regular on-board reporter, said his team
was allowed to fly over the rally area between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., but
were told by the ATO Manila Control Tower to pull back from CBD shortly
before 5 p.m.

The TV chopper thus missed prized shots of the crowd as it started to swell.
One of two Philippine Air Force choppers that flew on a
reconnaissance mission at 4:45 p.m. was also barred from entering CBD
air space.

On a mission to survey the rally area, a UH-1H chopper of PAF's
207th Tactical Helicopter Squadron was advised to pull out of the
Makati area as it approached the CBD. Its tandem plane, a Huey 2 of the
PAF Search and Rescue Group, managed to penetrate Makati air space
despite the directive, the control tower confirmed.

The first Huey, which carried three members of the media and PAF
information office photographers, was only able to pursue the aerial
survey in the quieter areas of Taguig, Pasig, and Quezon City.

The only gathering those on board the chopper saw from above was a
thick line of people on each side of Commonwealth Avenue and people
huddled around stalls along the roadside market.

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