No cell shutdown over Nazareno – for now

The PNP has not monitored any 'imminent or specific threat,' but is nonetheless deploying 1,000 more policemen for the Nazarene feast this year

ANNUAL RITUAL. Up to 8-M Filipinos troop to Quiapo for the traditional feast January 9. File photo

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) has no plan to shut down cellphone services during the traditional Black Nazarene procession on Wednesday, January 9, Metro Manila’s police director said, explaining there is no security threat.

“We’ve been constantly evaluating the peace and order situation. As of now, everything’s normal. We haven’t received any imminent or specific threat, but of course your police will constantly remain vigilant,” said NCRPO Regional Director Gen Leonardo Espina in a press conference Thursday, January 3.

Espina said it is the call of the PNP chief, as well as other authorities, to block cellphone signals as was done in 2012. The government did this last year in the face of a supposed terror threat, which, it turns out, was based on a raw report.

In 2012, the government suspended cellphone services within the Quiapo district to secure devotees of the Black Nazarene. This was after President Benigno Aquino III appeared in a rare press conference on a Sunday, Jan 8, 2012, to warn devotees about a security threat during the annual Catholic ritual.

It was the first time that the government suspended cellphone services over a security threat.

Espina said the PNP is not taking any chances. He said the PNP is deploying over 3,000 policemen for the feast. Of this number, 1,000 will be assigned to barangays because “criminals usually take advantage” of the absence of devotee-residents. (Watch more in the video below.)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines will also assist the police on January 9. Other authorities, such as from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, will also be deployed for the feast.

The number of deployed policemen this year is higher than in 2012, when the PNP assigned only 2,000 for the annual procession. Espina denied this is overkill as critics said last year. “That’s a small number compared to the number of devotees – 9-M people,” he said in a separate interview with Rappler.

The PNP will make it a point, however, to remain inconspicuous and not to “offend” devotees with their presence, said NCRPO Deputy Director for Operations Gen Christopher Laxa.

‘Vital’ cell signals

In January 2012, consumer group TXTPower expressed alarm over the government’s decision to shut down cell phone services.

“Keeping all public communication outlets, especially cellphone services, open is the public’s and the government’s sounding board against any alleged terror threats. Open cellphone lines would enable citizens to respond to President Aquino’s call for reports of suspicious persons and groups. It is also vital to media, whose profession relies heavily on cellphone services, to report to the public and to both private and public security personnel,” TXTPower said in a statement.

Up to 8-M devotees join the annual procession of the Black Nazarene, a 17th-century mulatto image of Jesus Christ, which Filipinos closely relate to and is believed to cause miracles. (Watch more in the video below)

Seen in the context of “utang na loob” or debt of gratitude, the Nazareno devotion is an “awesome” display of gratitude to God, anthropologist Dr Fernando Nakpil Zialcita told Rappler. The challenge, he said, is to extend this devotion “to a group larger than family.” – Rappler.com

For more of Rappler’s coverage of the Feast of Black Nazarene, click on the links below::