MANILA, Philippines – Massive preparations are underway to maintain order and security during the annual procession of the Black Nazarene in Manila tomorrow.
Mayor Alfredo Lim has ordered all the six district public hospitals in the city to be on full alert, with ambulances on standby during the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
The Coast Guard also deployed teams along the Pasig River in the event a devotee falls into the river during the procession.
Authorities are expecting some eight million devotees to attend the 8 a.m. procession from the Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church. The procession is expected to take 10 to 12 hours.
“It’s all systems go in Manila as far as the slated Jan. 9 celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene is concerned,” Lim said.
City government spokesman Ric de Guzman said a total of 20 ambulances have been assigned by Lim to stand by for emergency cases during the event.
De Guzman added the city’s six public hospitals will be on full alert, to augment the medical personnel that will be deployed by the city health department in designated tents.
He said arrangements have been made by Lim with Maynilad to put up water stations in strategic areas to provide free drinking water.
At least 30 portable toilets will also be placed around the Quirino Grandstand area, he said.
Security will be provided by the Manila Police District (MPD) under Chief Superintendent Alex Gutierrez.
Lim said the procession’s route has been cleared and cleaned of all obstructions to ensure the safety of the devotees who will be joining the procession barefooted.
Lim also urged the cooperation of barangay officials and residents in the areas to maintain the cleanliness until the procession tomorrow.
Lim also announced that classes would be suspended in city-run public schools where the traffic situation is expected to be heavy during the procession.
Among the schools where classes were ordered suspended tomorrow are the City College of Manila, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Manila Science High School, Araullo High School, Manila High School, Mabini Elementary School, Avancena High School and Santiago High School.
Lim allowed private schools and state universities to decide whether to hold classes in the areas where traffic is expected to be heavy.
At the same time, Lim appealed to devotees not to bring children and pregnant women to join the procession.
Lim said they could just attend the Mass for their own safety and watch the procession from the sidelines or the sidewalks.
“We in the city government will do everything possible to ensure a peaceful and orderly observance of the Feast of the Black Nazarene. We are all prepared and the Manila Police District under Chief Superintendent Alex Gutierrez would be augmented by the NCRPO (National Capital Regional Police Office),” Lim said.
Lim said criminal elements are also welcome to join the procession if their intention is to change their ways and become devotees of the Black Nazarene.
Lim also appealed to drunks or intoxicated devotees to refrain from joining the procession.
Gutierrez, for his part, said they have implemented security measures to make the Feast of the Black Nazarene orderly and peaceful.
Gutierrez downplayed fears raised by Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes of a “copycat” attack on Quiapo pilgrims, similar to the bombing of several churches by militant groups in northern Nigeria on Christmas Day.
“Our daily meetings with my intelligence men showed there is no imminent threat from extremists who may disrupt the procession,” Gutierrez said.
The police, however, are not taking any chances.
Gutierrez said anti-explosives personnel with bomb-sniffing dogs have conducted “paneling” of the Quirino Grandstand for hidden explosives.
Devotees are scheduled to hold an overnight vigil tonight at the Quirino Grandstand in the Luneta where the revered black icon is displayed.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to participate in the pahalik or the ritual kissing of the feet of the Black Nazarene while enshrined at the Grandstand.
The state weather bureau advised devotees joining the overnight vigil to bring umbrellas.
Weather forecaster Gener Quitlong said cloudy skies and scattered rainshowers are expected today in Manila.
The venerated image of the Black Nazarene will leave the Grandstand at 8 a.m. tomorrow after the 6 a.m. concelebrated Mass to be officiated by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle.
The procession will pass through Katigbak Drive, Taft Avenue, MacArthur Bridge, and the streets of Palanca, Quezon Boulevard, Arlegui, Fraternal, Vergara, Duque de Alba, Castillejos, Farnecio, Arlegui, Nepomuceno, Aguila, Carcer, Hidalgo, Bilibid Viejo, Guzman, Hidalgo, Barbosa, Globo de Oro, Villalobos and finally at the Quiapo Church through Plaza Miranda.
Some 1,600 policemen will be deployed along the route of the procession.
Traffic will be supervised by personnel of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Manila’s traffic policemen.
Proper coordination was made with barangay officials along the procession route for inspection of open manholes, uneven surfaces, dangerous electrical wirings, extended tree branches and other obstructions. Streetlights were also checked.
Medical stations manned by trained volunteers from various hospitals were put up at Rizal Park and along the processional route.
The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) will also deploy volunteers along the route of the procession.
PRC secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang said first aid stations, ambulances and welfare desks will be deployed along the route as “foot patrol first aiders” and “water rescuers.”
“A total of 11 first aid with health stations will be set up and more than 50 ambulances will be deployed during the entire procession. PRC will also mobilize four rubber boats and other rescue vehicles such as rescue truck, fire truck, amphibian and other transport vehicles for possible deployment,” Pang said.
Some 30 portalets were strategically placed at the Quirino Grandstand and Plaza Miranda.
Volunteers from environmental groups will be on hand to ensure the proper disposal of trash.
Quiapo Church rector Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio said they are deploying priests around the image of the Black Nazarene to help maintain order and keep eager devotees at bay during the early morning Mass at the Quirino Grandstand.
Ignacio said that in past years, the procession of the image of the Black Nazarene turned unruly, with many devotees getting hurt.
This time around, Ignacio is hoping that the devotees would learn to respect the priests around the image and not mob the men in habits.
Ignacio appealed to devotees to wait until the Mass is over, and learn to show their devotion to the Black Nazarene in a proper and orderly fashion.
“There is a part of the crowd that is aggressive. But anyway, we are preparing for this. We would prioritize securing the altar, stage area. Maybe we would have priests who would carry the image of the Black Nazarene from the stage to the carriage located at the side of the main stage,” Ignacio said.
“So we are appealing to the mamamasan (people who carry the image) that they should wait for the Mass to finish and not rush to the image. They should not charge at the priests because the priests are not used to being mobbed,” he said.
Once the image has been placed on top of the carriage, the devotees would take turns to pull the rope and start the “translacion 2012” or procession until it reaches the Quiapo Church, also called the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene.
Ignacio is hoping the presence of the priests will encourage better behavior from the devotees.
“They have respect (for the priests) so they would not attack them,” he said. – (With Evelyn Macairan, Nestor Etolle, Sheila Crisostomo, Pia Lee-Brago, Dino Balabo)