MANILA – Elements of the terrorist Maute group may be in Metro Manila and could be planning to target the annual Black Nazarene procession which is expected to draw millions of Filipino Catholics, Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said.
Authorities are now gearing up to secure the event, considered as one of the biggest displays of faith in the mainly Catholic nation, as terror threats linger following a spate of bombings across the country.
Sueno said the main threat is coming from the Maute group, which recently suffered a heavy loss during a days-long clash with the military in Lanao del Sur.
He said, there is a “strong possibility” that elements of the Maute group are now in Metro Manila.
"Ang threat alam niyo naman, Maute group, at saka yung maybe Abu Sayyaf. Mainly Maute group they are connected with the ISIS,” Sueno said in a news conference in Malacañang.
"May mga reports that's why we are not leaving, we are moving everything, lahat ng preparations ginagawa na natin. We are not leaving anything to chance… As long as we know that there is a threat, we consider it big already, that's why our preparations are also big.
Sueno added, the government is also preparing for a possible retaliation from the Ansar Al-Khalifah Philippines, whose leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid was killed by government forces on Thursday.
“Baka mag retaliate, yung ang problema natin, yung retaliation. That's why we have to double, triple our preparations sa security," Sueno said.
Despite the threats, Sueno discounted the possibility that the government will move to cancel this year’s procession.
"No, I do not think the government will advise for the cancellation of this traditional practice. It's been done since how many years ago. So we will just try our best to really keep our people safe," he said.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella, meanwhile, said "sources in the intelligence community have warned of possible disturbances" during the feast but that government agencies are working to ensure the safety of devotees.
"Although sources in the intelligence community have warned of possible disturbances during the Feast of the Black Nazarene on Monday, on January 9, several government agencies will be working together to secure the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene,” Abella said.
Abella said the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Health and Manila City Department of Public Services have all laid out their plans to keep the devotees of the Black Nazarene safe.