THE biggest single religious gathering in the country, the traslacion (transport) of the Black Nazarene image of Quiapo Church every January 9, is arguably a major security nightmare for the Philippine National Police.
Several million devotees usually turn up to fulfill their yearly vow to attend, the latest count being 5.5 million in 2016. This remains disputable, because Metro Manila’s population is only a little over 12 million.
Priests and organizers at Quiapo’s minor basilica project an even bigger attendance this year, reinforcing belief that the Black Nazarene tradition is as strong as ever, and will remain robust in the years to come.
PNP chief Rolando dela Rosa, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, Mayor Estrada and other officials sounded less than reassuring when they downplayed threats from terrorism that huge gatherings such as the traslacion necessarily entail.
A rival religion, Islam, has adherents who are equally fundamentalist and passionately religious as the Nazareno devotees who believe touching the rope and kissing the towel or handkerchief dabbed with the image’s perfume would work miracles.
Islamists and jihadists pose a threat to traslacion’s security, and the US and British embassies know only too well to issue travel and emergency advisories to their nationals now in Manila.
A bomb attack on the procession packed with people so dense you can’t insert a barbecue stick between two participants is the ultimate dream of terrorists thinking of a swift, sure way of destruction.
Stoking the fire and adding to the complexity of the problem were the raids conducted by the Manila police on known lairs of shady characters in Quiapo, officially reported as anti-illegal drugs campaign, two days before the event.
Police chief Bato de la Rosa said there is nothing to fear because “God is with us.” For good measure, more than 5,000 policemen have been deployed in Manila for the procession, some coming from Calabarzon. Abella is more forthright and practical, saying let us be vigilant and look after each other to prevent any untoward incident.
If General Bato’s prayer to God is heard, we may yet sleep well tonight with the thought that the Quiapo hoopla is over for this year with nary a sorry incident. Perhaps one or two devotees would die of heart attack or be squeezed and trampled, or Noli de Castro’s bare foot would suffer a wound from a barbecue stick that he would later blame on Erap, but in general, the whole exercise would just be a cause for massive traffic jams in the metropolis and the shooting up of most motorists’ blood pressure.
Let the devotees venerate the Nazareno, but the religious at Quiapo church and the devotees should be made aware that life goes on for the rest of the nation as they march and pray, and the authorities in charge of peace and order, traffic, sanitation, disaster preparedness and rescue, health, etc. have also the responsibility to serve the bigger non-Black Nazarene community.