Manila: Security forces on Sunday put in place security measures a day ahead of one of the biggest religious events in the Philippines, the feast of the blackened image of Jesus Christ, or the “Black Nazarene.”
The procession of the Black Nazarene, or its traslacion, through a several-kilometre stretch in downtown Manila, is significant to Filipinos — for both deeply religious Catholics and others who see participation as an expression of their piety.
As in previous years, authorities have taken efforts to thwart any form of terrorism that may occur at this time. Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said among the measures taken are the banning of backpacks, wearing of caps or hats or jackets that may conceal weapons or explosives and the suspension of permits to carry firearms.
“Those carrying backpacks or wearing jackets will be accosted,” he said, adding that thousands of police and soldiers will be deployed to ensure the safety of those who take part in the religious activity.
In previous years, authorities have employed electronic signal jammers to prevent terrorists from using mobile phone-triggered improvised explosive device (IED). This year, Dela Rosa said the PNP will try convince telecom firms to turn off signals in areas where the procession would pass through.
“It would be better if the telecom firms would just switch off their mobile phone signals rather than us using signal jammers,” he said.
Dela Rosa said that while the police and military do not see a direct threat to the religious activity, the government has an obligation to protect its citizens. He added that at the moment, among the threat groups being monitored is the Ansar Al Khalifa Philippines (AKP). For his part, Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said “there is a possibility that the AKP will avenge the recent slaying of its leader, Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, aka ‘Tokboy’.”
Maguid, who operated in the region of Soccsksargen, was slain in a firefight with a combined force of elite soldiers and policemen last week.
The Southern Philippines-based AKP had pledged allegiance to the Middle East-based Daesh.
Besides AKP, other groups being monitored by the government are the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf, which respectively operate in Central Mindanao and Western Mindanao regions in Southern Philippines.
Although officials said they do not see serious threats from militants, actions by authorities in Manila say otherwise. On Saturday morning, authorities in Manila rounded up 80 men at the Islamic Centre in the capital’s Quiapo district.
A Philippine Star report, quoting Manila police special operations unit head Chief Insp. Jay Dimaandal, said the search activities were part of the “regular operational plan (Oplan Galugad).”
President Rodrigo Duterte said he is satisfied with the security preparations for the feast of the Black Nazarene.
Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Maria Paz Banaag said in an interview on state-run Radyo ng Bayan: “The President is well aware of the threat of retaliation from terrorist groups but he is confident that the country’s security forces can handle the security preparations well.”
She said that while terror groups may seize the opportunity to launch attacks, the good thing is there is no specific threat monitored by authorities.