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Malacanang, PNP request telcos to cut services in Nazarene areas

Devotees of the Black Nazarene raise their hands up for the holy water in Quiapo. ITOH SON/
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 4, 11:59 a.m.) Malacanang and the Philippine National Police on Monday asked telecommunications companies to temporarily cut off their services in the procession route of the Black Nazarene.

Both presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte and PNP chief Nicanor Bartolome confirmed making the request as part of the security measures agreed on during the meeting Sunday. 

Earlier, President Benigno Aquino III warned of terror plots to disrupt the procession that has traditionally been participated in by millions of Filipinos. 

Telecommunications giant Globe confirmed this disruption of its services as part of the security measures. Globe said other telecommunications networks might also be affected.

Here's how Globe is advising the public regarding today's telco service in Manila. The Globe Advisory reads: "In the interest of national security, please be informed that mobile subscribers of all telcos in select areas of Manila will experience temporary loss of signal due to security measures being conducted by the government in line with the feast of the Black Nazarene. Thank you."

Smart, in a statement, said: "We have been briefed by government regarding the security situation with respect to the Black Nazarene procession. Based on that briefing, we are fully cooperating with government in order to address the situation and have agreed to take certain precautionary measures to enhance public safety in and around the procession areas." The leading telco declined to provide further details.

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said they requested for a "calibrated strength" of the signals where cellphone signals will be disrupted along the routes where the image of the Black Nazarene is expected to pass.

Robredo explained this was resorted to, since mobile phones can be used as triggering devices for bombs.

The request was made by the intelligence units of both police and the military.

However, the consumer advocacy group TXTPower deplored the measure, saying, "While we know that government has a mandate to secure the public against threats, we must not easily surrender fundamental rights, especially those that affect communications."

"Derailing the enjoyment of these rights is said to be among the aims of terrorists -- now, the government has done it for them," the group said in a statement.

"The Office of the President and the National Telecommunications Commission should have at the very least made a formal public announcement early today about the government's decision -- the scope and reach, when the suspension would start and end, and what the public could resort to in the absence of cellphone services," TXTPower said.

"Telcos also have a responsibility to inform subscribers of the government's orders and how and why they complied with those orders," it added.

Some 8 million devotees are expected to join the throng that will walk from the Quirino Grandstand, where masses were heard earlier this morning, to the home of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Church. 

Many of the devotees will wait for the burnt image of the cross-bearing Jesus Christ by the streets where it will pass through. They will either attempt to climb up the carriage or throw towels to wipe off the image; these are believed to cause good luck, if not help stave off bad luck. Many also do it as part of a life-long panata or vow.

In the past, a number of devotees died or were hurt due to a stampede, heat stroke, or heart attack. (With reports from Chichi Conde, Abigail Kwok,