THE annual observance of the feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo is always a tug-of-war among the Church, the Hijos de Nazareno, the police and local officials, the vendors, media, and common commuters who wanted no part in the hullabaloo.
The yearly festivities and self-infliction of pain and sacrifice to pray to God for blessings and to thank Him for blessings received — real or imagined — invariably result in bruises, heart attacks, stampedes, traffic jams, fights and even deaths.
There is therefore solid reason for the state to intervene, although the intervention that we see year in and year out have been leaning quite close to the Church, particularly to the minor cathedral in Quiapo. The Quiapo parish itself has relished the attendance of monstrous crowds every year, but failed to solve the concomitant problems of peace and order, garbage, petty crimes, body injuries, and risks of stampede that go with huge assemblies of people.
This year, the National Capital Region Police Office, with the inspiration from the PNP top leadership, decided to set up the “andas wall,” a phalanx of some 3,000 policemen to guard the front and two sides of the andas or carriage of the Black Nazarene. Devotees have been confined to do their thing at the back portion of the andas, where towels and handkerchiefs are thrown, people swarming and elbowing each other just to climb the andas, etc. With the general mayhem confined at the back of the Black Nazarene, the start of the procession was orderly and fast-moving, and the devotees had reason to complain.
Yesterday, Malacañang backed the Philippine National Police in its move to be strict during the procession, saying the police were only trying to keep devotees safe.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo made the statement after some devotees of the Black Nazarene expressed frustration over how the “andas wall” hindered them from carrying out a time-honored tradition of climbing the carriage. Several of the barefooted devotees also complained of getting hurt after being stepped on by policemen wearing combat boots.
In his press briefing, Panelo stressed the PNP was only doing what it thought was best for the welfare of the devotees participating in the Traslacion. A massive block of 2,144 policemen stopped the eager devotees from climbing up the carriage, a tradition that has stood the test of time for them.
PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa earlier said that some 5,000 to 7,000 policemen, including trainees and elite commandos, would be deployed to keep watch over the procession. The move proved to be very helpful in keeping peace and order during the celebration.
“This annual celebration is a strong and a constant reminder of our people’s deep and lasting relationship with the Almighty,” Panelo said.
We dare to add that it is also a reminder that even religious rites should bow to the State’s inherent right to maintain order and sanity in the streets.