By TONYO CRUZ
I didn’t understand why it was underreported, but it exploded by late evening of January 9. For all intents and purposes, the National Capital Region Police Office “changed” Traslacion and it was not a pretty thing.
Soon after devotees successfully returned the popular icon to Quiapo Church, GMA reporter Jun Veneracion posted on Facebook that a police chief snatched his phone as he took a video of police officers strangling a devotee of the Black Nazarene.
In Veneracion’s post, he shared the video until the sad end when the police chief muttered an expletive, ordering that the video be deleted.
To be fair, photojournalist Ezra Acayan already posted hours earlier a photo of what now appears to be the exact same incident: Policemen strangling a Black Nazarene devotee with their bare hands.
Contrary to rumors that our fellow journalists are combative, most of their coverage of the day was safe. Colorful, yes. But safe. The main news sources were the church leaders, local authorities led by Mayor Isko Moreno, and the mayor.
The biggest conflict they reported was between Mayor Moreno and a street vendor who begged that his men don’t confiscate the wares she sought to sell on the streets.
I’ve been to several Black Nazarene processions when I was younger, and have continued to watch the annual festival since. But the changes this year were, in total honesty, very big and consequential.
First, the police seemed to have taken it upon themselves to direct and manage the procession.
The NCRPO surrounded the Black Nazarene with hundreds of policemen in what they called an “Andas wall” that separated the devotees from the revered image. It also deployed a police pickup truck in front of the procession to obviously help direct the procession.
Second, the NCRPO had the policemen composing the “Andas wall” wear combat boots. Yes, thick boots that could hurt covered feet of other people, but especially people who join the Traslacion in their bare feet. How many devotees had their feet hurt, injured, and bloodied this year, we would never know.
Third, hundreds of police tried to cordon off the Black Nazarene’s route in front of Plaza Miranda. By being there in those numbers, they snatched perhaps the last chance of thousands to try to climb the Andas, touch the icon, throw a towel.
Why church leaders allowed the interferences is quite surprising, considering that Quiapo Church is a special church that carries the honorific title “minor basilica” and all the obligations that go along with such a designation made by a pope.
I tried checking if President Ferdinand Marcos or Governor Imelda Marcos even tried to do anything like it during their long conjugal reign, but I couldn’t find any such story.
This year, the police again ordered that mobile networks turn off their signal along the Traslacion route, in what has become a new normal. They would always say it was a precaution, but I think it is about time the police and other authorities brief the nation why they did it. What “credible threat” were they afraid off that they would order the switching off of cell sites? Who are the threats? Were suspects identified and arrested?
We must demand answers to these questions because they could be the answers to the questions about police behavior in the Traslacion. The church leaders starting with the rector and outgoing archbishop Cardinal Tagle should demand answers because it was apparent that the NCRPO changes sought to separate devotees from the icon, and to inexplicably quicken the pace of the procession.
Quiapo’s Black Nazarene annual processions have always been a frenzy. Often painfully slow, but always peaceful. There has not been any untoward incident to the point that devotees willingly damaged the icon. Neither is there any record that devotees didn’t return the icon to the basilica. Surely, devotees cannot be a problem. Surely, the church leaders should express their thanks to devotees for their faith and service. Traslacion continues because of them.
Going into the evening, media reports were still safe but had gone a bit sporty. Most were reporting that the Black Nazarene was set to reach Quiapo Church sooner than expected. It felt like the devotees were wittingly or unwittingly placed in an “amazing race.”
If questions are left unanswered and police changes left unchallenged, we can only guess that tweaks they’d introduce to the Traslacion. What would stop the police from “suggesting” placing the Black Nazarene in a glass-encased Andas, and getting rid of the Hijos who help devotees in their attempts to reach the image? What’s next to the deployment of thousands of police in combat boots? Would they come next year in full-battle gear complete with truncheons and shields to better ward off the devotees? How many cameras would they snatch and would they again try to delete other videos?
Quiapo is called the heart of Manila. And rightly so, partly because of the world-famous Filipino devotion to the Black Nazarene and the annual procession honoring it. Partly because of the big Muslim community that also occupies the district. Partly because many major jeepney routes pass through Quezon Boulevard. It remains a working-class area, usually overtaken by working-class people trying their best daily to keep body and soul together.
May the Black Nazarene continue to bless Quiapo and the working class that sees its own suffering in the image of the suffering Christ and the spanine promise of redemption. May the Traslacion continue in all its multi-sensory glory, and may God and the pope grant our local church leaders the wisdom and courage to defend the devotion and the people’s faith against “changes” that harm and separate devotees from the object of their devotion.
Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net