DEVOTION. Despite the ban on mass gatherings, thousands of devotees of the Black Nazarene still flocked to the Quiapo Church for its annual feast on Saturday (Jan. 9, 2021). Authorities have been repeatedly asking devotees to refrain from going to Quiapo and just celebrate the feast at home to prevent further spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – The sight of thousands of devotees of the Black Nazarene flocking to the Quiapo Church amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic drew mixed reactions from netizens.

Haissssst tigas talaga ulo, di ba nga sa Diyos ang awa sa tao ang gawa. May virus pa ei (How hard-headed. As the saying goes, ‘Mercy comes from God but it is up for the people to act. The virus is still around),” Nora Guiao said in her post as a reply to a purported photo of a huge crowd in the vicinity of the church.

Another netizen, Rhoderick dela Cruz Nicolas, hoped that some devotees would still abide by the call of authorities to just observe the occasion at home.

Kayo na pasaway sinabi na nga sa inyo sa bahay na lang kayo mag stay bawal na pumunta sa Poon wala pa rin may sumusunod (You hard-headed people, you have been told not to go and just stay home and still you did not heed it),” he said in his post.

A netizen, meanwhile, said devotees can still put their faith in action with care.

Hindi naman nila mapipigilan yung mga tao kasi mga nananampalataya at mga deboto yan, tradisyon na yan e. Tibayan nalang nila pananalig nila at sana may panlasa pa sila paguwi nila (they cannot control that because that is their belief and they are devotees, that is their tradition. Just keep their faith and I wish they are still okay when they go home),” Bianca Full said in her post.

Some netizens also believe that the Manila City government, the local police, and even Quiapo Church officials did their part in reminding the public about the pandemic and to observe the minimum health safety standards.

Hindi na nagkulang sa paalala ang gobyerno, panalangin na lang natin na walang magka Covid (The government did not remiss in reminding the people, let us just pray that nobody contracts Covid-19),” Jholand Mangilaya said.

During the first Mass for the feast at 4:30 a.m., the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (MDRRMO) said the crowd at the Quiapo Church and surrounding areas was estimated at 32,700.

As of Saturday noon, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) said the number of devotees at Quiapo Church and its surrounding areas has decreased to just over 14,000.

Constant reminder

NCRPO chief, Brig. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr. said police officers were deployed to help the orderly movement of people during Masses.

Okay naman po ‘yung ating latag ng security. Sa peace and order, wala tayong nare-receive na threat although di talaga maiwasan na may konting violation ng health protocols pero ‘yun pong papasok ng simbahan ay we see to it na ma-implement (We don’t have problems in terms of security. As for peace and order, we have not received any threat although a small violation of health protocols cannot be helped but as for those entering the church, we see to it that these are being observed),” Danao said in an interview with radio station DZBB.

He said police officers strictly comply with the 400-devotee capacity inside the church.

“So far, the situation is okay. It’s just that some devotees can’t help but become excited and they unconsciously forget about the protocols. But we do not stop in reminding them about it,” he added.

Police officers deployed for the annual feast would undergo swab testing for Covid-19.

“We better assume there would be widespread infections out of the throngs of devotees, who just could not resist getting to this annual event despite the government's intense warning. The policemen deployed in the Traslacion had their RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction test) earlier and will have to take the same afterward,” PNP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana said in a media statement.

Authorities have been repeatedly asking devotees to refrain from going to Quiapo and just celebrate the feast at home to prevent further spread of Covid-19.

"We are only confident, however, that the devotees are compliant with and observing the minimum health protocols despite their huge number. In this case, self-discipline is expected," he added.

Usana, meanwhile, said devotees are generally compliant with the protocol on physical distancing.

"The police and Traslacion organizers did an excellent job in making the devotees compliant, especially in Plaza Miranda. The ones that are being circulated around in social media might be in another Traslacion event," he said.

The annual feast of the Black Nazarene every Jan. 9 normally gathers millions of devotees from different parts of the country and even from abroad.

This year, the traditional long procession of the image from the Quirino Grandstand to the Quiapo Church has been canceled as mass gatherings remain prohibited due to the pandemic. (PNA)