Nazarene devotees gather despite terror threat

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Monday, January 9, 2012

MANILA (4th update, 3:16 p.m.) -- Some three million people dispelled threats of a terrorist attack on Monday, choosing to join the celebration of the centuries-old Black Nazarene statue, which was venerated for its mystical powers.

The number is expected to hit eight million as the five-kilometer procession progresses from Quirino Grandstand to the charred statue's home in Quiapo Church, according to Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene Rector Monsignor Clemente Ignacio.

"After talking to some devotees, I think more people came this year than the last time," he said, adding that the procession is expected to last from 10 to 12 hours.


On Sunday, President Benigno Aquino III issued a warning on a possible terrorist attack that might be launched in Metro Manila with the Black Nazarene procession being seen as a likely target.

Malacañang, in turn, said it would be better if some devotees would skip this year's event as a precautionary measure.

Australia and the United States had warned its citizens to avoid the procession and nearby areas.

MANILA. Tens of thousands of Catholic devotees gather at the Rizal Park Monday to parade the image of the Black Nazarene believed to have healing powers, during its annual festival in Manila. (AP)
A stampede marred the start of the Black Nazarene procession at the Quirino Grandstand on Monday. (Screen grab from an ANC report)

Asked whether they did not consider cancelling the festivities considering the threat was announced by no less than Aquino, the parish priest said it was given a thought.

"They (security officials) are coordinating. I and Archbishop Tagle were also thinking and discerning. The archbishop made a consultation but the consensus was we (have to) go on," Ignacio said.

For his part, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle thanked Aquino for taking a pro-active stance in addressing the security threat.

He said they coordinated with Manila Police District (MPD) in beefing up their security, peace and order personnel by the military and the police as well as K9 units and closed-circuit television (CCTV).

The National Government earlier said that they would have moved for the cancellation of the procession had it been identified that a bomb threat is aimed at the Black Nazarene feast.

In Malacañang, officials defended the temporary disruption of cellphone signals in Quiapo, saying it was part of additional security measures following reports of terror threats.

Possible terror attack reports were "credible enough" to prompt President Benigno Aquino III himself to make the announcement and warn the devotees of the Black Nazarene last Sunday, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

"We feel that it (disruption of mobile signal) is warranted as an additional security measure and is necessary for us to ensure that nothing untoward will happen during the period of the procession and the celebration," Valte told reporters in a Monday press briefing.

President Aquino on Sunday revealed that "local" terrorist groups are planning to disrupt the celebration of the Black Nazarene feast where millions of people are expected to join.

Valte said that the interruption of mobile services will be along the routes to be taken by the procession which started from the Quirino Grandstand and will end at the Quiapo Church, Manila.

It will also last for the "entire duration" of the procession, she added.

Several groups criticized the government's move, saying that security measures will also be compromised. With the signal shutdown, police personnel reportedly experienced communication problems and the public may be unable to report any possible untoward incidents as well.

Should an untoward incident happens, Valte said the public could still use landlines to be able to report it.

The signal shutdown was part of security measures agreed upon by the President and the authorities during their meeting last Sunday since cellphones have been used to detonate bombs.

She added that not bringing cellphones and other valuables could prevent petty theft.

Security officials confirmed spotting six to nine suspected terrorists in Metro Manila.

Meantime, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said eight devotees were transported to Ospital ng Maynila and Philippine General Hospital (PGH).

Six devotees, according to PRC secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang, were brought to the hospital due to dizziness, difficulty of breathing, and chest pains.

Another devotee was brought to the hospital due to possible elbow dislocation while one pregnant woman was transported to Ospital ng Maynila due to dizziness.

Overall, the Red Cross said it has attended to 137 devotees in this year's Black Nazarene procession as of 1:10 p.m. Monday.

Fifty-five devotees with minor injuries were treated and 72 devotees, as of this posting, also had their blood pressure taken.

Minor cases vary from wound injuries, exhaustion, dehydration, and hypertension as 350 PRC staff and volunteers with 19 ambulances were deployed in different areas in Metro Manila to render first aid to injured patients during the feast.

On the other hand, environmental group EcoWaste Coalition cited several groups who immediately picked up the trash left by the devotees right after the Holy Mass that was presided over by Tagle, the newly-installed leader of the Archdiocese of Manila.

"We look forward to a more ecological celebration of our faith as more and more Filipinos heed the call for ecological awareness, conversion and action," Roy Alvarez, president of the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Among those who took part in the cleanup were the church workers and volunteers and government workers from Manila City Government's Department of Public Services, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC).

The most common discards left by the devotees include plastic bags, food wrappers, polystyrene containers for hot drinks and for meals, improvised sleeping mats, and rubber slippers, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Meanwhile, classes in several schools in Metro Manila were suspended Monday to ensure the safety of pupils and students during the Feast of the Black Nazarene.

An ANC report said classes were suspended in Apolinario Mabini Elementary School, Geronimo Santiago Elementary School, Ramon Avanceña High School, Manila High School, Manila Science High School, Araullo High School, University of the East- Manila, University of the Philippines – Manila, Far Eastern University – Manila, Polytechnic University of the Philippines – Manila, University of Santo Tomas, San Sebastian College, Adamson University, Unibersidad de Manila, Colegio de San Juan De Letran, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, City College of Manila, and Adamson University. (AMN/Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)

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