“I just experienced how they gathered news back in the 1990s,” said reporter Jeff Canoy when he arrived at our technical setup in Plaza Miranda.
Jeff and his crew had followed the venerated image of the Black Nazarene when it left the Quirino Grandstand on the morning of January 9, the anniversary of its translacion or transfer to the Quiapo Church four centuries ago.
The procession was not due to arrive until around midnight, but the team pushed on to Quiapo earlier for Jeff’s top story on TV Patrol.
Jeff already went live that noon. But all day, Jeff parted with his routines: tweeting online, phoning reports, and texting regular updates to his desk editor.
All because a terror threat prompted authorities to jam cellular signals from Quirino to Quiapo.
The threat announcement was made by no less than President Aquino came the day before.
It surprised reporters who earlier heard police chief Nicanor Bartolome say after he met the President that there were no serious security threats on the celebration.
It turned out this year’s translacion still had something new despite being covered and shown on TV for so long.
With cellphones rendered useless, our ENG vans along the procession route became the only spots with a semblance of communication to Quezon City.
Our savior: the citizen’s band radio console retrofitted on each van.
Fortunate too were the AM radio reporters, whose means to report on-site went undisrupted.
The vans had not let go of the radios even as our news-gathering teams dropped it in recent years for the ubiquitous cellphone.
The radios were still the quickest and most hassle-free way for studio and news desk to “shout” to us, especially when we were going live.
And so it was like unto the days when cellphones were still costly, scarce, and the size of toolboxes.
Reporters like Jeff and Chiara Zambrano sneaked clicks on the radios asking for their editors.
Radio frequencies long unused had crackled again to let them swap advises without blocking our constant back-and-forth with the studio.
Jeff still had another problem–how to send his TV Patrol script for editing. He usually e-mailed it. Worse, he dictated it over his cell. But with neither, would he shout it over the radio? His editor told him to look for a landline.
Good thing our computer setup for the TV Patrol anchoring had a working Internet. IT guy Rod Tapales said it was mere luck the broadband broke through the jam and stayed connected.
Jeff also found his script could be edited here too.
Chiara and her team near the Manila City Hall still had to drive to as far as Malacañang to get a signal, send her script and have it back for voicing.
It was still inconvenient. Jeff needed fresh details like the estimated number of devotees who joined.
Before, the sources were at phone’s reach. That day, the office had to get the info for him.
Our team at the Quiapo endpoint also had no way to know where the carriage of the Nazarene already was.
Another new factor this 2012: the procession was taking longer than usual.
The rear tires of the carriage that conveyed the image had punctured early in the procession. Then one of the ropes devotees were tugging had broke.
Ten hours since it left the grandstand, the procession had not yet reached half of the 24 turns it was scheduled to make.
After we signed off Bandila at midnight, authorities said they foresaw the arrival at 5 a.m.–long past what anyone had experienced or anticipated.
A Pinoy netizen used an image of the Nazarene procession to point that “crowd-sourcing” was “more fun in the Philippines,” as the recently-launched tourism slogan went.
A team mate suggested: “Insomnia. More fun in the Philippines.”
Many in our technical team stole naps during the lull. Most of them had already been there 24 hours and accepted that it would take a little longer before they could pack up.
The manager of a store where we had another camera set up chose to stay long after they had closed.
With no option to rest were our security guards, who were added at the last minute because of the security warnings.
Yet terror threat or not, delay or not, the million devotees were determined to see the Nazarene reach its destination.
The main gate of Quiapo church was already closed, but the Masses did not cease.
A perpetual Tagalog “Hail Mary” enveloped Plaza Miranda, interrupted by the occasional liturgical song.
In clumps, devotees had lain down, sat, or stood in the dirty concrete of the plaza. The sleepless approached peddlers selling ice cream, juice, rice cakes and coffee.
Sampaguita vendors still offered their unconsumed wares. A number tossed their towelettes to boys guarding smaller replicas of the Nazarene, and then awaited a rubbed-on blessing.
Slipper-clad or barefoot, many found spots to stretch out in beds of cardboard. A family occupied the front of a convenience store. Others slept alongside the litter at the impassable Quezon Boulevard.
The plaza would briefly come alive as the loudspeakers streamed the hymn to the Black Nazarene. The devotees then sang and twirled their white towels, as if in practice for the moment they were expecting.
Intermittent fireworks would wake the drowsy crowd to signal the latest street the Nazarene had reached.
At 4 a.m., 7 more streets remained.
Officials had tried to steer the carriage straight for the church during the afternoon, but tensions rose when devotees insisted the procession follow the traditional route. Tradition was followed.
Our technical crews also roused when the Nazarene breached the entrance of Plaza Miranda past 5 a.m.
The plaza still filled to the brim as young men kept climbing the sea of people for a rub or a kiss on the image or its cross.
A point-man stood at the carriage, navigating this flood with hand signals and a whistle. The Mass had already given way to a voice on the PA directing people to make way.
It took nearly an hour just to reach the middle of the plaza.
But with three whistles and one last heave, the hundreds bearing the carriage finally managed to directly haul it straight to the church gate.
Many raced to wipe their handkerchiefs on the image at that last minute. Those who could not waved theirs as a send-off.
Two live report wraps from Francis Faulve and Jerome Lantin and my own 20-hour vigil was over.
The lateness of the the hour was likely why for my first time, I did not see the deluge of devotees swamp even the ENG vans.
Even after the procession had ended, our calls and messages could barely be sent.
For one reporter and his crew, the cost of covering was lost cellphones.
Yet as the devotees of the Black Nazarene have never stopped coming back, the camera will not likely tire of this annual flood with its images of struggle, persistence, and expectation.