PNP deploys 700 personnel for Peñafranca fiesta

NAGA CITY, Sept. 9 (PNA) -- The Philippine National Police (PNP) Bicol regional office is deploying 700 personnel in Naga City for the duration of the nine-day religious festivities in honor of Bicol's patroness, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, on September 11-20.

Senior Supt. Romulo Esteban, officer-in-charge of PNP Bicol office, said the 700 police personnel deployed will start arriving on Thursday for assignments in several choke points and other strategic areas in the city.

But Esteban lamented that they are not getting definite assurance from the Naga City local government unit regarding the food allowance of the police personnel deployed in the duration of the religious festivities.

“We don’t have any problem for as long as the food of our troops is taken care of. Until now, the small support for our troops has not yet been institutionalized,” he said.

Esteban said the deployed police personnel are given Php150/day food allowance and on occasions like the Peñafrancia fiesta, they are given an additional allowance of Php30/day.

He said festivities like this are not covered by the regular budget of the PNP.

Naga Mayor John Bongat said the LGU cannot afford to shoulder all the expenses in food for 700 police personnel for 10 days and he hopes that the PNP will understand and help in this expense.

The police personnel are also given the task to implement the gun ban which the Naga City LGU imposes on the duration of the religious festivities, except for the uniformed personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PNP, from September 11-21.

Expected to draw more than a million devotees to this city where the "Ina" devotion started 305 years ago, the gun ban would enhance the peace and order situation during the only regional fiesta in the Philippines, according to Vice Mayor Nelson Legacion.

The gun ban will be implemented starting Friday with the commencement of the religious feast by the ritual of "traslacion" procession of barefoot male devotees called "voyadores" transferring the image of Ina from the Peñafrancia Shrine to the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral.

This was announced Tuesday during the meeting of the multi-agency committee composed of the Naga City LGU, the Archdiocese of Caceres and other government agencies.

The gun ban is lifted after nine days of novena at the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral and the culmination of the feast in fluvial procession at the Naga River to return the Ina image to its “home”, the Basilica Minore.

Also prohibited during the two ritual processions -- traslacion and fluvial -- are the shower of confetti and water hosing of voyadores because they are deemed disruptive to the solemnity of the feast.

On the dates of the two processions on September 11 and 19, liquor ban is also imposed on the streets where the procession is to pass through.

But Bongat said it would be a challenge to impose the liquor ban because drinking parties are done in private residences while liquor ban is only on the streets where the Ina image will pass through.

For many, many years until now, majority of the voyadores, who join in groups in the ritual of bringing and tagging the Ina image by brawn and brute force canned inside a moving human barricade, are known to intoxicate with liquor to toughen themselves and hit the goal of touching the Ina image once in a year that they call "panata".

In the meeting, the representative of the Philippine Coast Guard raised the issue of seaworthiness of the pagoda of Ina and the safety implications of the on-going dredging and revetment project in Naga River.

Lt. Archie Hicban, a station commander of the Philippine Coast Guard, suggested that the number of people in the pagoda and the number of boats to tow the pagoda be reduced, too.

Hicban said Naga River’s water levels in dredged portions had gone deeper but narrower so that he concluded that the river’s capacity to accommodate the number of boats towing the pagoda must be lesser for safety reasons.

But Hicban was told by Bongat that he was misinformed about the situation of the Naga River and that his suggestion “dramatically redefines the tradition.”

Joselito Del Rosario, head of the Public Safety Office, said they will conduct actual inspection of the Naga River and discuss the safety issues in the committee before the fluvial procession event.

Introduced to the native inhabitants of this city who the Spaniards tagged as "cimarrones" in 1710 by Spanish Friar Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, the miracles of Ina image, carved from santol trunk by a local artisan, was said to have started with the resurrection of the dog killed for its blood to darken it.

Since then, the devotion to Ina spread throughout the region and brought outside by Bicolanos residing abroad. (PNA) LAP/FGS/JME/CBD/SSC