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CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – One of the Catholic priests who started the now-traditional annual procession of the Black Nazarene in Cagayan de Oro since 2009 has attributed the dramatic decline in attendance during the Traslacion on Tuesday, January 9, to what he called the excessively tight police security in the city before and during the religious event.
Monsignor Rey Monsanto, the parish priest of Our Lady Fatima Church in Barangay Camaman-an, said the ring of police officers and soldiers prevented devotees from approaching the 17th-century life-size replica of the mulatto image of a kneeling and cross-bearing Black Nazarene during the procession.
Monsanto, the parish priest of Cagayan de Oro’s Jesus Nazareno Church in 2009, was the priest who requested the Quiapo Church to loan one of the replicas for the jubilee year celebration of the city’s Nazareno parish. However, instead of a loan, the Minor Basilica in Quiapo opted to give one of the pilgrim images.
Colonel Evan Viñas, spokesperson of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (COCPO), said only around 18,000 devotees participated in the Traslacion in the city on Tuesday, marking an almost 84% reduction in attendance compared to the estimated 110,000 participants in 2023.
“The highest form of veneration for devotees is going near or throwing their handkerchiefs to wipe the Callejeron. They were unable to do that last Tuesday,” Monsanto said.
Hundreds of police officers and soldiers formed a tight ring around the coach carrying the religious icon last Tuesday with strict orders not to allow anyone to get near it. Police also stationed officers on buildings to discourage confetti throwing as it passed by during the Traslacion.
“The heavy presence of soldiers and police may have elicited negative reactions among the devotees. The Traslacion is for them,” Monsanto expressed.
He pointed out that such a situation defeated the purpose of holding the Traslacion when the Quiapo Church agreed to send the Black Nazarene image to Cagayan de Oro 14 years ago.
Monsanto explained that the instruction he received from Quiapo Church back then was for Cagayan de Oro to host the Traslacion so that Catholic devotees in Mindanao could gather in the city instead of going to Manila every January 9.
Father Der John Faborada, the head of the Cagayan de Oro archdiocese’s social communications department, also reported hearing many complaints about the strict security protocols set by the police during last Tuesday’s Traslacion.
He said devotees expressed frustration at being unable to approach the religious image to touch or throw towels due to the very tight police and military security surrounding it.
Faborada also noted that many Catholic devotees opted to go to Quiapo in Manila now that public health restrictions due to COVID-19 have been lifted.
Monsignor Perseus Cabunoc, vicar general of the local Catholic archdiocese, earlier said that organizers entrusted the security of the religious event to the police and military after the December 3 bombing of a Catholic Mass in Marawi City by extremists.
Cabunoc, in a news conference days before the Traslacion, said, “Even I am scared of the prospects of somebody bombing the religious procession.”
However, Colonel Viñas said a major reason for the smaller attendance this year was the non-declaration of a special non-working day on Tuesday. He said a holiday declaration would have freed thousands of employees from work, allowing them to join the Traslacion. – Rappler.com