MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Millions of Roman Catholic devotees paraded with a statue of Christ through the Philippine capital under a massive police cordon Monday after the president warned that terrorists might target the raucous annual procession.
The government did not have specific intelligence on a terrorist plot. Still, about 15,000 policemen, backed by hundreds of army troops, secured the three-mile (five-kilometer) procession route for the charred wooden Black Nazarene statue from seaside Rizal Park to a popular church in Manila’s congested Quiapo district.
Air force helicopters stood by and cellphone service was blocked in procession areas to prevent its use to trigger bombs. Despite the president’s warning, huge crowds of devotees wearing maroon shirts surged near the statue, believed to have healing powers.
“It’s a choice between faith and fear,” said Rodolfo Uy, 45, a polio victim whose 12-year-old son pushed him on a wheelchair to see the Black Nazarene. “I got nervous last night when I heard the news but my devotion was stronger.”
Uy said he prayed for metal braces so he could walk and work again for his children.
President Benigno Aquino III announced in a hastily called news conference Sunday that several terrorists had been reported in the capital with plans to disrupt the procession, but that the threat was not high enough to cancel the procession and that police would work to keep it safe.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the threat, involving possible bombings by two groups of Muslim militants from the country’s volatile south, prompted police to raid several suspected terrorist hideouts in the Manila area, but without any results.
In addition to hundreds of army troops, the military said it deployed 19 teams of explosive experts, 33 units with bomb-sniffing dogs, crowd-control squads and ambulances. It put a 500-member rapid reaction force and three helicopters on standby.
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