MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED as of 8:05 p.m.) – President Aquino called on Filipinos to exercise “maximum vigilance and discipline” leading up to and during the Black Nazarene procession on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, as a necessary precaution over reported “heightened risk.”
In a briefing on Sunday, the president confirmed a terror threat on the annual Catholic event in Quiapo that attracts eight to nine million devotees from all over the country.
“I am sad that terrorists want to disrupt ability of people to live their lives, including freedom to worship and other community activities,” President Aquino said.
“In the last few months, we have been apprised of intentions to create disruptions in the NCR (National Capital Region) during the feast of the Black Nazarene. Previously the difference between their intentions and capabilities has been quite pronounced. The possibility prompts us to warn you of the risk in attending the procession,” he said.
Aquino said the group involved is local, but their linkage to other groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf and Jema’ah Islamiyah, has yet to be established.
President Aquino stressed that “the state will protect the devotees to the fullest extent possible,” but asked for understanding and cooperation among those who will attend the religious rite since increased security preparations and measures will be in place.
No cellphones, firecrackers
Attendees are not allowed to bring cell phones, as well as weapons, firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices to avoid injuries and to prevent panic and stampede.
“Anyone who is caught bringing or using fireworks will be apprehended. Monitor and obey our warnings and instructions. This is for the safety and well being of all,” President Aquino said.
In a statement also on Sunday, National Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome said they have placed the entire 15,000-strong police force in Metro Manila on full alert as part of a comprehesive security and public safety plan.”
Initially, only 2,000 police authorities were deployed for the procession. The Armed Forces of the Philippines would augment the increased deployment of police personnel and all available mobile and foot patrol units as well as K-9 Units will be deployed, Bartolome added.
Unruly persons and those under the influence of drugs and alcohol will be immediately evicted from the activity, according to Manila Police Director Senior Supt. Alex Gutierrez.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo also advised against bringing big bags as these will have to be searched. Vehicle owners are also asked to clear the street parking along the procession route to avoid any forced removal.
There are no classes in schools located in the Manila area on Monday.
On Sunday morning, Jan. 8, 2012, Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte made the same appeal to the Black Nazarene devotees. A few hours after, it was President Aquino himself who decided to address the public following a cancelled Davao trip and a late morning briefing by Police Chief Bartolome at the Command Center in Quiapo.
The president said this terror threat is not related to the travel advisory issued by the US Embassy in Manila last Friday, January 6, 2012. Their advisory came on the same the day the country branding campaign, “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” was launched in a bid to attract more tourists to visit the country.
“There is no connection between their terrorist advisory and the discovery,” he said, adding that the latter is part of an “ongoing effort as early as August of last year.”
The US advisory came a day after a video of a kidnapped Australian who was appealing for help, was leaked to on January 5. Australian Warren Richard Rodwell was abducted last Dec. 5, 2011, in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay.
The US and Australia are key security allies in the region.
The Palace have previously downplayed travel advisories issued by US, Australia, United Kingdom, France, New Zealand at Canada for warning their citizens of threat.
A Camp Aguinaldo source said the intelligence community started receiving reports about the threats early last week, “including plans and actual movements.” He said the threat was coming from fundamentalist groups.
But there’s no need to raise the alarm level, he added.
One of the President’s senior intelligence advisers clarified to Rappler that the President just “did not want to leave anything to chance.”
He explained: “These are the same sort of reports we receive annually during this feast day. So far, in the last several years, nothing came out of these threats. But we never leave anything to chance.”
President Aquino said that the probability of an attack during the Feast of the Black Nazarene has not increased dramatically enough for the government to seek the cancellation of the observance.
“If there was a very high risk of that (bomb attack), we would have moved to cancel the procession. But as of this time…that high probability does not yet exist,” he said.
“We feel that it is very prudent on our part, and it is part of our task, to ensure that our people have the necessary information for them to be able to make the appropriate decisions,” he added.
Asked whether he would urge the devotees to skip the event and observe at home because of the terror threat, President Aquino replied that while this “will undoubtedly lessen the risk,” Church authorities have informed him that “there will be those, regardless of the threat level, will still insist on doing so.”
Devotion to Nazarene
All over the country, Filipinos who identify with the struggles and sufferings of Jesus Christ troop to the annual processions of the Black Nazarene, an image of the mulatto of Jesus Christ. The procession in Quiapo in Manila, however, draws the most followers.
The annual procession commemorates the transfer of the Black Nazarene on Jan 9, 1787 from a Recollect church in Intramuros to St. John the Baptist Church in Quiapo Manila.
Believed to be miraculous, millions of devotees religiously join the procession from Luneta to Quiapo Church. Placed on a shoulder-borne carriage, the image is carried by marshals.
Last year, the procession took 14 hours to travel the short distance. – Rappler.com