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CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Police in Cagayan de Oro and elsewhere in Northern Mindanao are planning an extensive security plan to safeguard the largest annual procession of the Black Nazarene in Mindanao on January 9 to avoid a repeat of last month’s bombing of a Catholic Mass in Marawi City.
Lieutenant Colonel Rey Gaudencio Taboclaon, Cagayan de Oro police deputy director for operations, said they are deploying hundreds of police and Army soldiers to form a tight ring around the replica of the Black Nazarene procession as it winds its way on the streets of Cagayan de Oro.
Barefoot devotees, who call themselves Hijos de Nazareno, will carry the life-sized, dark-skinned wooden sculpture of the Black Nazarene, just like their counterparts in Quiapo, Manila.
Thousands of devotees are expected to attend Cagayan de Oro’s version of the Traslacion, the procession in honor of the Feast of the Black Nazarene, which is similar but much tamer than that of Quiapo.
“We will be deploying more police and Army during the procession. We will not be saying how many. We don’t want any surprises,” Taboclaon told reporters during the security briefing for the procession on Wednesday, January 3.
Taboclaon said the deadly bomb attack at the state-run Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi on December 3 weigh on their minds as they map out a security strategy for the Black Nazarene procession, a yearly Catholic event that gathers a significant number of devotees, predominantly from the southern Philippines.
On December 3, an explosion tore through the MSU’s Ali Dimaporo Gymnasium during a Mass, organized to mark the start of the traditional four-week preparation for Christmas. The attack killed four Catholic mass-goers and hurt several dozen others.
“We have not received any information of any threat, but it is better to be overprepared,” he said.
Monsignor Perseus Cabunoc, vicar general of the Catholic archdiocese in Cagayan de Oro, said the Callejeron or the replica of the Black Nazarene would be paraded by a convoy of vehicles from Jesus Nazareno Parish Church in Barangay Lapasan to the Saint Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral on January 8.
Cabunoc said the public viewing of the Black Nazarene would be held until 12 midnight at the Saint Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral on January 8.
He said the religious icon of the Jesus Nazareno Parish Church would be returned in a procession to its shrine at the Jesus Nazareno Parish Church in Barangay Lapasan.
Cabunoc said the practice by devotees of throwing towels and handkerchiefs to be rubbed on the image of the Black Nazarene is being discouraged during the procession.
Cabunoc said the Cagayan de Oro archdiocese has left the security of the religious event to the police, traffic officials, and medical responders.
“Even then, I am scared of the prospects of somebody bombing the religious procession,” he said.
Taboclaon said all mobile phone communications would be jammed from 5 am to 8 am when the Traslacion would start from the cathedral to the parish church.
He said police mobile checkpoints in the borders of the city with Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, and Bukidnon would implement a strict check on all incoming vehicles at the same time.
Taboclaon said devotees are discouraged from bringing backpacks and wearing hats during the procession.
He said teams of policemen in civilian clothes would go along with the procession to enforce the rule on backpacks and hats.
Cagayan de Oro Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) chief Nonito Oclarit said they would drive away vendors from the Saint Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral and the Jesus Nazareno Parish Church on January 8 and 9.
Oclarit said, as part of the security plan, they would implement a strict no-parking zone for all vehicles around the cathedral and the parish church. – Rappler.com