MANAOAG, Pangasinan — Thousands of devotees have begun flocking to Manaoag, said to be the country’s biggest pilgrimage center, with the crowd expected to swell to one million, maybe more from Good Friday to Easter.
With more than a million devotees crowding like ants in a single place, it is definitely a security nightmare for the undermanned Manaoag Police and its partner, the Philippine Army from Camp Tito Abat here.
Center of devotion is the Basilica Minore of the Lady of Manaoag atop a hill, where the ivory image of the Virgin Mary, said to have come from Mexico in the 1700s, is enshrined.
Security is tight as police have been deployed to all corners of the basilica, as well as the Virgin’s Well in Barangay Pugaro.
Manaoag Police chief, Chief Insp. Dave Mahilum, said that with the influx of devotees, their hands are full and they cannot afford to relax, even for a moment.
The pilgrims come to Manaoag in jeepneys, cars and buses, as well as on foot, on Good Friday as a form of penance and devotion to the crucified Jesus Christ under the scorching heat of the sun.
The devotees come from various parts of Pangasinan and from the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Zambales and Metro Manila, including Baguio and La Union.
Anticipating the hordes of devotees to head to Manaoag during the Holy Week, the Pangasinan Police has sent reinforcements to help the Manaoag Police, said Chief Insp. Norman Florentino, provincial police chief for community relations.
The Philippine Army has also deployed reservists to help the local government maintain traffic, as well as regular personnel to help secure the town.
Florentino said parking could be a big problem as there is limited space around the downtown area where devotees may leave their vehicles when they head to the basilica.
Elsewhere in Pangasinan, policemen have been posted along the highway to secure motorists and assist them in case of trouble and accidents. PNA-northboundasia.com