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Manila on high alert ahead of Black Nazarene feast

Military claims it's ready to ensure safety of millions of devotees attending festival

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: January 06, 2017 08:38 AM GMT

Updated: January 06, 2017 08:39 AM GMT

Manila on high alert ahead of Black Nazarene feast

An estimated 1.5 million people joined the annual procession of the image of the Black Nazarene during last year's celebration. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

 

The Philippine military said it has "sufficient" land, air, and sea resources to ensure security at Manila's feast of the Black Nazarene, which is expected to attract millions of people from Jan. 7.

"Security forces have done all the preparations, and most of these preparations are already in place," said Col. Edgard Arevalo, head of the public affairs office of the Philippine military.

The official said security forces will be on alert for possible terrorist attacks, especially during the Jan. 9 religious procession that usually lasts up to 20 hours. 

Arevalo said they have not received "any direct threat against the procession" but noted that terrorists are known to target large gatherings. "Having said that, we are not going to relax our security," he added.

"We are not saying that there's no threat. There's no information but the threat is there. The threat is always there but the information none," said Director Oscar Albayalde of the National Capital Region Police Office.

The police official said they know that there is a threat because of ongoing offensives by the military against groups in the southern region of Mindanao. "There is always that possibility that's why the threat is always there, but it is not clear, present and imminent," said Albayalde.

He said authorities are not taking anything for granted especially with the discovery of several improvised explosive devices in Manila in recent months.

He said there is "always that possibility of terrorism activity."

Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said authorities have been monitoring groups that have vowed allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group.

"We will just try our best to really keep our people safe. This is why we have the police, the military, and the other armed groups in our government to really help contain ... or maintain peace and order and keep our people safe," said Sueno.

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Police checkpoints have been set up around Manila and round-the-clock police patrols and searches have been conducted. Drinking in public places has also been banned.

"The Manila Police District is on full alert," said Manila police district director Joel Coronel, adding that the police force is "99.9 percent ready." He said he would leave the remaining .01 percent to God.

Church leaders have urged Black Nazarene devotees to always carry identification cards during the Jan. 9 procession "in case of emergency."

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