TACLOBAN, Philippines — Beset by allegations of playing an active role in hundreds, if not thousands, of drug-related killings, Philippine police have sought to boost their battered image by holding religious processions in honor of Mary.

In Tacloban in the central Philippines, about 300 policemen staged a “Santacruzan” to promote what they said were the police’s core values — “pro-country, pro-people, pro-environment, and pro-God.”

At least 24 “police queens” from different areas in the eastern Visayas region took part in the May 29 event, ucanews.com reported.

The “Santacruzan,” from the Spanish “Santa Cruz,” or holy cross, is a pageant supposedly to honor the finding of the true cross by St. Helena of Constantinople.

In Santa Cruz in Laguna province the annual event was staged by police officers for the first time.

Laguna Police Chief Kirby John Kraft said it was a good way to engage with people as part of the police’s “community relations” efforts.

A similar event was held May 31 in Camp Crame, the Philippine National Police headquarters in Manila.

Father Ramil Costibolo of the Archdiocese of Palo in Leyte province said the processions “only show that our police are just like us, normal people, spiritual people.”

“It’s very normal among Filipino Catholics to have this activity to show our devotion to our beloved Mama Mary and at the same time celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ,” the priest said.

Spanish friars introduced the pageant to the Philippines in the late 19th century.

The Santacruzan involves a parade of “reynas” (queens) and “sagalas” (maidens) with their male consorts at the end of May.

Alternately known in some parts of the country as “Flores de Maria,” (flowers of Mary) the procession pays homage to Mary.

“Behind these queens are the virtues that they exemplify that should be practiced to contribute to the betterment of the individual and the entire organization and the community,” said Kraft, the Laguna police chief.

Nova Jane Barbosa, who was the Queen Helena in the Tacloban pageant, said the aim was to show to people the “true appearance” of the men and women in police uniform.

Father Joselito Borja, a police chaplain, said it was the first time that police officers in the region had staged the procession.

“People will know that there is God in our lives, that we are religious,” he said.

Cristina Palabay of Karapatan, a human rights organization, expressed hope that the country’s police officers will show more sincerity in efforts to address criminality and human rights abuses.

“It would be better if the (police) genuinely practice the progressive and meaningful teachings of Jesus Christ and his mother Mary, that are love for the poor and genuine service to the downtrodden,” Palabay said.

Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch said “no amount of prettifying … can hide the fact that the Philippine National Police is implicated in the unlawful deaths of thousands of Filipinos in the so-called drug war.”

“Instead of appropriating a religious and community activity, (the police) should stop the summary executions of drug suspects, bring the perpetrators of these killings to justice, and uphold the rule of law and due process,” he said.

Human Rights Watch reported that at least 12,000 people, mostly from urban poor communities, have been killed in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.

At least 2,555 of the killings have been attributed to the Philippine National Police, according to information gathered by rights groups.