LEGAZPI CITY, Albay—Gov. Joey Salceda suspended classes at all levels in public and private schools, colleges and universities in the entire province of Albay on Friday due to the unavailability of public transport as over one million people— members of the Iglesia ni Cristo and their guests—headed to the town of Sto. Domingo for a day-long assembly.
Salceda said in his Facebook account that he suspended classes at all levels at 10 a.m. as a public welfare and safety measure.
Transport services in the province were disrupted as passenger jeeps and buses were hired by the INC organizers for the assembly, held in Barangay Lidong in Sto. Domingo.
The INC in Legazpi hosted the assembly, called “Lingap sa Mamamayan,” which provided humanitarian assistance not just to the group’s members but to the local community through gift giving and a medical and dental mission.
Insp. Arthur Gomez, spokesperson of the Albay Police Office, said they had received reports of thousands of commuters, including many students, were stranded because of the sudden shortage of public transport.
In addition, he said, the INC event created a huge traffic jam on the Maharlika Highway in Barangay Lidong where at least 7,000 buses, cars and jeeps were parked on both sides of the highway on the four-kilometer stretch from Barangay Bigaa in Legazpi to Barangay Lidong.
Despite the heavy traffic, no untoward incident was reported, Gomez said.
Salceda launched “Operation Libreng Sakay” (free ride) with six military trucks and ten buses dispatched to provide relief to stranded passengers in this city and neighboring towns.
Sto. Domingo Mayor Herbie Aguas, in a phone interview, said he welcomed the INC event as it would be a big boost to the promotion of the town.
Aguas said local authorities had been on top of the situation in terms of crowd control as they were augmented by 350 policemen who came to assist the town’s police force.
Salceda said the INC gathering of some 1.2 million people in Sto. Domingo was surely be the biggest gathering of humans that ever congregated on one site in Albay.
“Since there are only around 120,000 INC members in Albay, then the 880,000 guests or even just half of it will be the biggest number of domestic tourists we ever had,” he said.