CEBU, Philippines — A backpack left inside the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral has delayed a wedding ceremony for more than four hours.
The guard of the church noticed the backpack at around 7 a.m. and Monsignor Ruben Labajo sought assistance from police to check the item at around 10 a.m.
They have to interrupt an ongoing mass and delayed the wedding ceremony of Bernard Jay Tutor and Hazel Mae Ong-Tutor which was scheduled at 10 a.m. The wedding pushed through at around 2 p.m.
The couple, the entourage and their guests had to wait outside the church even if it was raining.
“She did not know that I was already bothered because I kept it to myself. I felt pressured and just prayed that our wedding will push through. It’s been our dream to be wedded here. I felt relieved when I learned that it was just a backpack,” Bernard said.
The Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) Explosive and Ordnance Division head Chief Inspector John Abreu said that they immediately cordoned off the area and checked the bag using bomb-detecting dogs.
Police recovered from the backpack personal belongings of a teenage boy, and no other harmful items.
The police had already announced that backpacks are prohibited during the Fiesta Senor activities inside the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño where novena masses are done as a security measure.
On the other hand, Cebu City Police Office director Senior Supt. Royima Garma personally supervised the entrance of the basilica fronting D. Jakosalem Street.
She barred more than 20 individuals from entering the premises.
Garma said backpacks delay entry as it takes time to inspect and it is also widely used to hide improvised explosive devices as it has more room and compartment inside.
However, some people visiting the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in downtown Cebu City complained on the entrance-and-exit scheme, which was implemented yesterday, the first day of the novena.
Veronica Labra, 64, and her husband were from entering the exit passageway.
She complained that police officers should give consideration to senior citizens, especially to her 65-year-old diabetic husband who could hardly walk.
They would have wanted to enter the exit way across the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. They have to walk around the barricaded premises of the Basilica to reach the entrance which is on the other side of the area.
Labra said she and her husband only wanted to drop by the Basilica before they head to the hospital for a consultation.
The three entrance points are located beside the Tourist Police Unit; near the Plaza Sugbo marker and in between Island Souvenir shop and McDonald’s.
While the exit passageways are along Osmeña Blvd. near the Commission on Elections offices and near Mang Inasal food chain.
The other three exits lead to Legaspi Street, one is near Belmont Hardware Depot, another is across Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and the third is near PNB bank or across Petron gas refilling station.
Some police officers assigned at the exits complained because some visitors refuse to cooperate.
The FREEMAN observed that some visitors insist on entering through the exit while others ignore the police.
The first day was difficult for authorities to handle, said PO1 Virgilio Calcaben, who was assigned at one of the exit points.
He said there was a clear instruction from the higher officials that no one should come inside using the exit and no one is exempted from this policy.
Calcaben said most visitors heed their advice but unfortunately, some do not cooperate and even insist to get inside.
He, however, said that visitors are not violent while some just enter directly while they are busy entertaining other visitors.
The exit passageways were cleared from stalls or parked vehicles.
Fr. Aladdin Luzon of the Augustinian Order spearheading the religious activity, and the director of the Safety, Security, Peace and Order cluster, said the exits were purposely designed that way so that in cases of emergency, ambulances and responders can easily leave the place.
It is already the second year that authorities and organizers have implemented the entry and exit schemes but Fr. Luzon said it was expected that on the first day, people still have to adjust to the imposed policies.
He also said that most visitors even find this strategy more comfortable.
Based on their initial assessment, it was more orderly because there is a smooth flow of people entering and leaving the Basilica premises, and prevents the previous scenarios wherein people keep on pushing one another.
As the celebration kicked off yesterday, devotees and the public had to endure the rain and long queues just to attend the first novena mass.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña vowed to do his best in securing the Sinulog 2019 celebration saying there is a security threat.
While he did not elaborate the possible threat, the mayor said one of the first lines of defense of the city is the Muslim community here.
“Yes, because there’s a terrorist threat. People will get adjusted to it. If people will know in advance, they just have to adjust to it. I grew up without signal. So don’t say we can’t live without it,” he said.
About 10 years ago, Osmeña recalled how the Muslim group stopped the possible bombing in Cebu during the celebration of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
“That’s why our first line of defense against terrorism is not the police, it’s the Muslim community here. They are our allies and friends,” he told reporters.
Osmeña said the authorities will always wait for something bad to happen.
The most important thing for now is not to compromise the safety and security of the Cebuanos, local and foreign tourists, he said.
The mayor asked the public to follow the rules throughout the celebration to ensure the safety and security.
He said that the people should accept that there will be lesser events because the Sinulog means celebrating Señor Santo Niño who is a child.
“So, the fiesta is not for the drunkards and addicts to go around. The fiesta is for children,” he said.
Osmeña also agreed on the shutting down of cell sites for the safety of the people, saying the authorities cannot take any chance to compromise the safety of the public.
Also yesterday, City Councilor David Tumulak started the distribution of checks for the subsidy of the 24 competing contingents and P400,000 assistance for the Philippine National Police.
Tumulak said it is the first time that the city government gave large amount of assistance to the police since the previous leaders of the organization did not ask for anything during Sinulog celebration. Marjory D. Enriquez (FREEMAN)