By Mar S. Arguelles
LEGAZPI CITY --- At least three battalions of police personnel will be dispatched in Naga City to augment security measures during the annual observance of the Feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia whose religious festivities will take off from September 7 to September 16, this year, an official of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Bicol said yesterday.
Actually, the first batch of 637 policemen were deployed on Wednesday morning, Sept.5, during the send-off ceremonies at Camp Simeon Ola here, according to Police Chief Insp. Maria Luisa Calubaquib, PNP Bicol spokesperson.
She said another two batches of policemen will be dispatched this week to complete the three battalion contingents, for a total of 2,847 police personnel, that will beef up the police force in Naga City for the duration of the 10-day fiesta..
Calubaquib said the deployment plan include 1,883 cops to be dispatched directly to Naga City, 851 policemen to augment the police force of other towns and cities in Camarines Sur, especially those located around Naga City, and 113 cops to man the Police Regional Task Group Command.
Calubaquib, in a phone interview, said “the objective is to ensure the safety of millions of devotees as well as other visitors that are expected to be in Naga City for the religious festival.”
The battalions of policemen are tasked to enforce orderliness, traffic management and security measures in critical infrastructures such as churches, malls, transport terminals, including communication and power lines in remote areas.
Calubaquib said that upon the request of the City government of Naga, the regional command had asked PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde to issue a directive for a 10-day total gun ban within the city.
She said the security scenario would discourage lawless elements to take advantage of the situation where thousands of people converge in this city every September for the centuries-old fiesta.
Under the gun ban only members of the PNP, AFP and other law enforcement agencies that are on duty and are wearing the prescribed uniforms will be allowed to carry firearms.
The Penafrancia festivities will begin on Friday, Sept. 7, with the transfer of the images of Divino Rostro or “the Divine/Holy Face” and Our Lady of Penafrancia foot in a traslacion procession by men on foot from the Penafrancia chapel to the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown Naga for the novenario, or the 9-day vigil or novena. .
A fluvial procession at the end of the novena caps the 9-day vigil. The image of the Virgin, along with the Divino Rostro, are borne in a pagoda, or flower-decked vessel, via the Nga River on its return journey, this time to the bigger Basilica Minore, where a Pontifical Mass with over a million people attending is held. Along the route, as in the traslacion, people shout “Viva La Virgen!” as they wave their lighted candles and white handkerchiefs, asking for God’s grace and offering thanksgiving for the blessings received.
The image is escorted by a flotilla of male devotees, who paddle their wooden bancas to pull the bigger pagoda to its destination as people on the riverbanks also shout “Viva la Virgen!” to welcome and honor her. This year, people from the transport sector such as jeepney, bus and pakyak drivers have been chosen to ride the pagoda, along with Bicol bishops, priests, seminarians, and other ordinary folks will board the pagoda on its kilometer-long cruise. In previous years, sectoral groups, such as farmers and teachers, respectively, were given the privilege to escort the Virgin inside the pagoda. No woman, except the Virgin herself, is allowed inside the vessel, or pagoda during the September festivities. They are, however, given the chance during the summer Penafrancia fluvial procession, on board the same pagoda.