BUTUAN CITY – Police and the military personnel kept a tight security as an estimated of 12,000 Catholic devotees climbed the annual Panaad Via Crucis mountain trail as part of their Holy Week pilgrimage here, Friday dawn.
Those who attended the annual Holy Week commemoration on Good Friday trekked about five kilometers across the mountainside road in Barangay Anticala signifying the way Jesus Christ took on the day of his crucifixion. Fourteen Stations of the Cross are placed along the trail towards the mountain.
“People actually started arriving in groups as early as 2 a.m. in Friday morning. We have been here since Thursday at around 11 in the evening securing and preparing the place. The first priority is the safety of the people, the commuters so we set up the area first so that the vehicles would not be crowding the area and for people to be able to go up the mountain without being bothered by vehicles moving the same route,” said Chief Inspector Peter Paul Manatad, chief designate of the Land Transportation and Traffic Management Office (LTTMO).
Police Senior Inspector Paul Paden, chief of operation of Butuan City Police Office (BCPO), said police personnel were deployed to secure the area.
“A total of 250 police officers were deployed from the starting area then throughout along the route of the Station of the Cross. Our police force were also augmented with around 270 personnel from emergency response units, rescue groups, traffic enforcers and other volunteer groups which all served as force multipliers. So over all, we had around 520 personnel at the site, the 29th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army also added around 24 soldiers which aided in enforcing peace and order along the entire length of the trek,” said Paden.
Back in 2013, the Panaad trek was marred with fear and bloodshed as two members of the security team under the army were gunned down which ensued into a firefight near the third Station of the Cross which endangered the lives of those who attended the event. This incident brought traumatic memories and fear among thousands of devotees. The New People’s Army (NPA) was blamed for the incident but the armed guerilla group dismissed the claim pointing to a misencounter between security forces.
Sitio Tagkiling’s mountainside and the far-flung communities, which leads to the Hilong-hilong mountain range, has been an area of countless encounters and firefights between government troops and rebels long before the Panaad trek started. A place of bountiful natural resources, the mountain became ridden with conflict and constant military operations in the past.
Arnel Pamindalan, 41-year-old farmer and a father of two children from Barangay Sumilihon, expressed his enthusiasm while participating in the annual pilgrimage.
“We arrived her a bit late because our motorcycle had a flat tire as we were near the starting area. I’ve been participating in this annual event for two years now and this year is much bigger compared to last year. I’m sure by next year it would be a lot bigger,” said Pamindalan.
Pamindalan added that, “Since there are a lot of police and army personnel, so I’m sure the firefight in 2013 will not happen again. Besides this is supposed to be a day of peace.”
Butuan City Vice Mayor Jose Aquino II who is one of the devotees who climb the mountain every Good Friday, pointed out that the event is a huge success.
“The activity is a success, I think this is so far the biggest Panaad we had over the past few years. Over all it was a peaceful trek for devotees who had came into the area to say their prayers. There were around eight trucks used to ferry those who went to the area from the center of the city in Guingona Park. An additional 4 bus was also provided not to mention several private vehicles who offered to give people a ride going into the starting area,” said Aquino.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 16, 2017.