OVER 8,000 policemen will be deployed in Cebu City while almost 1,000 more will be fielded in Manila as two of the country’s oldest Catholic dioceses marked the feast of the Holy Child Jesus on Sunday.
Called the Sto. Niño [Holy Boy], the feast was introduced to Filipinos by clerical missionaries who accompanied Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and was officially recognized by Pope Innocent XIII in the 18th century.
The feast is celebrated both in Cebu and Manila, but the former has been turned out to be the larger, more colorful spectacle attended by thousands of local and foreign tourists every third Sunday of January.
Police Regional Office 7 Public Information Officer, Senior Inspector Reslyn Daposala Abella said security measures for the Sinulog Saturday procession and Sunday grand parade were already ironed out.
“We assure the public that the PNP is here and ready and we are prepared for the Sinulog grand parade celebration,” she said in a phone interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines.”
Central Visayas police spokesman Senior Inspector Reslyn Abella said there were no serious security incidents on Saturday when tens of thousands of devotees joined a solemn procession on the eve of the grand Sinulog parade in Cebu on Sunday.
Before that, heavy rain did not stop the fluvial procession that left the Ouano Wharf in Mandaue City at 6:40 a.m. and arrived at Pier 1 in Cebu City at 7:20 a.m. Saturday.
The Philippine Coast Guard Cebu Station said a total of 55 vessels participated in the fluvial procession. A replica of the galleon of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan carried the Sto. Niño.
No the fluvial procession was followed by a foot procession to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, where a commemoration of the first Mass, first baptism and first wedding was held.
No less than Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa arrived in Cebu Saturday evening hours after mobile phone signals were shut down as a security measure.
“I can’t text my friends. I can’t send messages on Facebook,” Mai-Mai Vicente, 24, told the Philippine News Agency. “This is the first time that I have to use a landline to get in touch with my friends.”
Officials said the National Telecommunications Commission approved a request of the regional police office to jam cellphone signals during the Sinulog Festival activities on Saturday and Sunday.
Police said most bombs are detonated using cellphone signals and they are wary of a repeat of the bombing in Hilongos, Leyte that left at least 32 people injured.
Telecommunications giants Smart and Globe supported the move to switch off some cell sites.
Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, regional police director, said they want “zero” cellphone signal within the 4-km. Sinulog route and in places where people will converge.
On Saturday, telecommunications companies switched off cell sites before the start of the fluvial parade at 6 a.m. Cell sites will also be shut down during the Sinulog grand parade on Sunday.
First responders will have to rely on radio communications during the duration of the festival.
Street parties have been barred within 300 meters from the grand parade route.
Police also implemented a gun ban from Jan. 9 until Jan. 18 as they aim for a “zero gun-related incident” during the festivities.
In Manila, the Manila Police District deployed 987 policemen for the Sto. Niño Feast on Sunday.
“We’re supported by private volunteer groups and NGOs, and, of course, the concerned barangays,” he said Station 2 commander Supt. Arnold Thomas Ibay.
MPD Station 10 also helped provide security especially in the Buling-Buling festival in Pandacan, Ibay added.
Mayor Joseph Estrada has attributed to the Sto. Niño (Child Jesus) all the blessings that the city and its citizens have been receiving.
The feast is celebrated on the third Sunday of January, although related activities are held as early as Saturday. The focus of the festivities is in Tondo and Pandacan.
The celebration in Tondo is highlighted by the “Lakbayaw (Lakbay-Sayaw)” while that in Pandacan, by the “Buling-Buling” street dancing festival joined by participants in their best attires.
Among those “blessings,” Estrada said, are the peaceful Black Nazarene procession last week where no one was seriously injured and the completion of multi-million-peso infrastructure projects in the city such as hospitals and the continuous economic progress of the city.