MANILA, Philippines - Terrorists could carry out an attack during the procession for the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Manila on Monday, President Aquino warned on Sunday.
"In any open democracy, there will always be challenge coming from extremist elements. The sad reality of the world today is that terrorists want to disrupt the ability of people to live their lives the way they want to , including the freedom to worship," he said in a press conference.
"Lately, we have been getting some information that led us to believe that there is a heightened risk that leads us to take the necessary precautions, especially given the nature of the procession for the Black Nazarene which involves quite a huge number of people," he added.
|Feast of Black Nazarene
Hundreds of thousands of devotees are expected to attend the procession from the Quirino Grandstand to the Quiapo Church.
Mr. Aquino said several individuals associated with a terrorist group have been spotted in the National Capital Region with intentions to "create distractions" during the Feast of the Black Nazarene. He identified these individuals as local.
"The possibility prompts us to warn you of the risk in attending the procession," he said.
Calling on those planning to attend to "exercise vigilance and discipline" leading up to and during the procession, he also asked devotees not to bring cellphones, weapons and fireworks and to report any and all suspicious movements.
The President visited the Quiapo Church earlier on Sunday to check on the security plans for the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene. He was also briefed by Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief General Nicanor Bartolome.
During the final coordinating conference on Sunday, Bartolome said he ordered police to arrest anyone with firecrackers as this could sow panic among devotees of the Black Nazarene.
More than 2,000 policemen had been deployed as early as Sunday morning for the traditional vigil and “pahalik”. Reserve personnel will also be on stand-by.
But on Sunday, the President said the number of PNP personnel assigned to the procession has been increased and further augmented by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
"There will be various other units that have been tasked to directly support the activity and the security preparations tomorrow, plus there are other units that have been increased after these people have been spotted in the metropolis," he said.
The President denied that the terrorist threat is connected to the travel advisory issued by the United States government on Friday, warning Americans to exercise extreme caution when traveling to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago.
"We really want to emphasize that there's a uniqueness to the threat level that people will have to face tomorrow," he said.
But asked how serious the threat is, Mr. Aquino said, "If there is a very high risk, we would have moved to cancel the procession."
"It is very prudent on our part and it is part of our task to ensure that our people have the necessary information to make their decision," he said.