Longest procession ever ends peacefully

- Evelyn Macairan, Nestor Etolle () - January 11, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - In the 405 years since the practice of the annual translacion started, this year’s procession of the image of the Black Nazarene from the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park to the Minor Basilica in Quiapo was the longest.

Police officials, however, considered the 22-hour procession “generally peaceful,” despite government warnings of a terrorist attack.

Quiapo Church rector Monsignor Jose Clemente Ignacio confirmed in an interview over radio dzBB that Monday’s procession was the “longest and most difficult procession, with the devotees offering the biggest sacrifice.”

The excruciating procession would normally drag on for 10 to 12 hours, but this year’s translacion went on longer than expected.

It left Quirino Grandstand at 7:45 a.m. Monday and returned to Quiapo Church at 6 a.m. yesterday.

There were reports that fiesta organizers mulled short cuts, but Quiapo parishioners insisted that the procession take its usual route no matter how long it takes.

“I am trying to understand where this (determination) came from. But we observed that their (devotees) gratitude to the Lord runs very deep. Their answer to the Lord can be seen in the motivation of these mamamasan (image carriers),” said Monsignor Ignacio, mainly attributing the cause of delay to the damaged wheels of the andas or carriage.

Ignacio said that they made the necessary preparations for the translacion and the maker of the andas, Ed Sarao, also designed the vehicle with two sets of wheels, which turn 360 degrees.

Shortly after the andas reached Manila Hotel, two of its wheels got stuck and suffered flat tires.

Organizers immediately asked the Philippine National Police (PNP) if they could use one of their trucks to carry the already stalled andas, but the devotees insisted on pulling it and continue with the procession.

There were a few times during the translacion when the andas would be stuck, but the devotees were united in their resolve to reach the Quiapo Church at all cost.

During the morning Mass, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said that “not unless we are a devotee we might not be able to understand the heart of the devotee.”

“We are now in the process of understanding where their source (of devotion is coming from). I admit that I myself am not like the devotees who have very strong and very deep faith, but I am trying to understand them… I understand that they have a very strong desire to touch the Black Nazarene, that is their way of expression,” Monsignor Ignacio said.

He admitted that there were injuries during the translacion, but he denied early news reports that a stampede occurred.


Security nightmare

Manila Police District (MPD) director Chief Superintendent Alex Gutierrez told The STAR that Monday’s procession was a security nightmare for the police.

Authorities banned the use of firecrackers during the procession, but some devotees managed to light kwitis when the image reached their respective areas.

“This is considered the longest watch of an event by the Manila police. Though weary and tired from a sleepless night, I am proud to say that they managed to secure the millions of devotees from possible extremist forces out to create mayhem during the procession,” Gutierrez said.

He attributed the successful staging of the event to lateral coordination of all law enforcement agencies, the fiesta organizers, non-government organizations, some 1,000 crime-watch volunteers, medical teams and traffic enforcers.

The MPD had doubled its heightened alert after President Aquino warned of a possible terror attack by “extremist elements” a day before the festivities.

The President reportedly went to Quiapo Church last weekend because he was concerned with the translacion.

Monsignor Ignacio admitted that even before the President’s visit, their security group already received “very concrete” information from their assets in the intelligence community.

MPD spokesman Chief Inspector Erwin Margarejo said Monday’s event could be considered as the world’s longest religious procession in terms of the number of hours.

Policemen arrested five suspected pickpockets during the procession, while a security guard of the City College of Manila was investigated for firing his gun to scare off the mob that threatened to lynch a suspected snatcher when he sought refuge inside the school campus.

Gutierrez said the police heightened alert will remain as two more big fiesta events are scheduled this month – the Sto. Niño fiestas in Tondo and in Pandacan districts.

Margarejo said they are still collating the number of injured from different hospitals in the city, but there were others who opted not to be brought to hospital or even be attended by volunteer medical personnel.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) reported close to a thousand devotees who suffered injuries and other minor medical conditions during the procession.

PRC said they extended first aid treatment to a total of 569 devotees who suffered various injuries and dizziness and checked 419 others who apparently experienced high blood pressure.

Of the total number, PRC said, 22 were taken to the nearest medical facility for appropriate medical treatment.

Nine patients, including a pregnant woman, were brought to the Ospital ng Maynila, including others who complained of difficulty in breathing and possible ankle fracture.

Most of the patients sustained wound injuries, exhaustion, fainting, dizziness, chest pain, seizure, and dehydration.

A total of 350 PRC staff and volunteers with 19 ambulances were deployed in different areas in Metro Manila to render first aid to the injured.


Environmental apathy

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said four truckloads of trash were left at the grounds of the Quiapo Church by devotees of the Black Nazarene.

Among the trash were food containers, slippers and towels.

Environmentalists deplored the littering committed during the feast, despite repeated appeals by the Church, government and civil society leaders.

“We are deeply saddened by the massive display of environmental apathy and disrespect during the feast day as if littering, which is clearly banned under Republic Act 9003, is permissible,” said Tin Vergara, Zero Waste campaigner of EcoWaste Coalition.

MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino proposed that next year’s Black Nazarene procession should be better planned, especially to address the problems of the expected mountain of garbage and injured devotees.

As a possible measure to efficiently collect trash, Tolentino suggested that trash dump trucks be stationed at strategic areas of the procession route.

To discourage devotees from bringing styrofoam food packages, which could just be thrown anywhere, he suggested that food stalls be set up where people could gather and eat, similar to a food court.

EcoWaste Coalition’s Basura Patrollers, who monitored the garbage situation throughout the procession, said the Rizal Park, the streets along the more than six-kilometer processional route, the gutters, storm drains, and even the MacArthur and Quezon bridges were littered with assorted trash.

While completely disappointed with the widespread littering, the group remains hopeful that the situation will improve in future festivities.

“We look forward to the next feast as an occasion for demonstrating our shared environmental responsibility, especially in terms of preventing and reducing our discards,” Vergara said. – Mayen Jaymalin, Mike Frialde, Rhodina Villanueva

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