Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos crammed into bus depots and jammed traffic on Thursday, as the nation began a four-day Easter holiday.
While many were headed to their home towns or to beach resorts, pilgrims also were flocking to villages where penitents gather every Good Friday to lash their backs with bamboo sticks or have themselves nailed to wooden crosses.
While devotees see them as a way to atone for sins or fulfil vows for an answered prayer, the Lenten rituals are opposed by religious leaders in the Philippines, south-east Asia’s largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
On Wednesday, Archbishop Paciano B Aniceto of San Fernando city in Pampanga province urged devotees not to turn Holy Week into a “circus”, calling flagellation and crucifixion rites “popular piety”.
“There are penitents who personally see me explaining their devotion and I usually tell them not to do it for show,” Aniceto said in a statement posted on the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ website.
On Thursday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque advised penitents to get tetanus shots and sterilise nails to avoid infections.
“Our ERs are always open for them to be taken care of,” he added.
In preparation for the mass movement of people, police have put a 120,000-strong force on nationwide alert to beef up security and police visibility.
Police and military personnel were also deployed to bus terminals to assist passengers and watch for criminals and terrorists.