The British Embassy has urged its citizens to “take particular care” due to possible terror threats during the Feast of the Black Nazarene on Monday (January 9).
The event sees crowds numbering in the millions thronging the streets of Manila, and also other locations across the country.
In an updated travel advisory, an embassy spokesman said: “The Philippine Ministry of Interior has received information on possible terror threats to the procession of the Black Nazarene, which will take place in Manila and other places on Monday, January 9. Take particular care in crowded areas and follow the advice of the local authorities.”
“Road closures and crowds of people will make travel in the downtown Manila area difficult or impossible and telecommunications will be disrupted.”
Responding to the advisory, Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno denied that his office had officially informed the British embassy of any terror threats to the Traslacion parade. He added that there was no “imminent terror threat” to the procession of the Black Nazarene.
He said that the British embassy could have based the travel advisory on a press briefing he held last week, when he revealed that members of the Maute terror group were in Metro Manila.
However, police chief Ronald dela Rosa said that there was a threat that members of the ISIS-inspired Al-Khilafa Philippines (AKP) might wish to avenge the killing of their leader on Thursday (see our report here).
He said: “There’s possible retaliation coming from the ISIS-inspired terror groups in Mindanao, especially from the AKP wherein the leader was killed.”
Although he described this threat as “serious” he reassured devotees that they had nothing to fear: “We have our actions taken but we cannot really divulge it to the public. It will all become ineffective if it is made known to everybody.”
As a further attempt at reassurance, he suggested that God himself would be watching over the event. “Don’t be afraid, God is with us,” he said. “We will not be forsaken.”
Despite this promise of divine protection, some 15,700 police officers and fire personnel will also be deployed for the event.
Like the UK, Canada has also advised its citizens to “exercise caution” during Monday’s crowded event, but did not make mention of any possible terror threat. It also described the Feast of the Black Nazarene as “normally peaceful.”
In a tweet on Friday the embassy wrote: “Millions of people are expected to gather for the procession. Although the event is normally peaceful, if you plan on attending please exercise caution and expect heavy traffic in the area.”
No specific advisory has been issued by the US embassy, which will be closed on Monday.
The procession of the Black Nazarene, which usually lasts for 20 hours, is the largest religious procession in the country, with over a million devotees of the icon joining a procession from Manila’s Quiapo Church every year.
Traffic is expected to grind to a standstill during the event.
The church this year is urging a special effort to be clean and tidy. Last year the event left more than 300 tons of trash and litter in its wake.