2 April 2010 

Kapitangan & Baliwag

The Philippines is predominantly a Catholic country with a minority of Muslims living in southern Mindanao. The Catholic faith is strong and thriving and Folk Catholicism finds its major outlet during Lent, where traditional Philippine style rituals can be observed in different towns and provinces throughout the country.

In 1997, I produced a video documentary called Kuwaresma, Philippine Lenten Rituals – again for Lory Tan, then head of Bookmark Publishing, now Vice Chairman of WWF Philippines.  Kuwaresma or the forty days of Lent culminates during Holy Week, and Good Friday is the highlight of all Lenten celebrations – the day Christ was crucified on the cross.

We have documented the underwater world of the Coral Triangle pretty well during this epic journey. But we are deeply aware that the cultural and religious diversity of the people living on land within this eco-region is a subject we needed to portray equally well.  All throughout our expedition, we were almost always in the right place at the right time and Holy Week was the time to be in the Philippines!  Culling from our past experiences of this Lenten Season, we revisited prime spots to photograph extraordinary rituals that are unique to the Philippines.  Our first stop was Kapitangan, Paombong in Bulacan where three individuals were crucified at noon onwards of Good Friday.

First man crucified with very sharp stainless nails. The men called "Hudjo" or Jews, nail this man to the cross. They sing the Lord's prayer and then takes off the nails soon after praying

This is the first man crucified on the cross with very sharp disinfected 3 inch extra sharpened stainless steel nails by the men called “Hudjo” or Jews. The Hudjo sang the Lord’s Prayer, took off all the three nails soon after praying and carried the man away from “Calvary”

The second one nailed to the cross was a young female in her early twenties.

The second one nailed to the cross was a young woman in her early twenties.

The third man nailed to the cross is Buboy Dionisio. This was to be his last crucifixion after the 16th time

The third man nailed to the cross was Buboy Dionisio. This was to be his last crucifixion after the 16th time

Behind every penitent is a vow called a panata. It is a debt of gratitude and a payment of a promise. "Faced with a serious problem, the devotee promises the Almighty a painful sacrifice in exchange for help.” (Cuaresma, p. 155)

Behind every penitent is a vow called a panata. It is a debt of gratitude and payment of a promise. “Faced with a serious problem, the devotee promises the Almighty a painful sacrifice in exchange for help.” (Cuaresma, p. 155)

Then towards the late afternoon, we went to a more festive scene of a grand religious procession in Baliwag Bulacan where 86 massive carossas or carriages carrying life size dioramas depicting a scene in the life of Jesus were paraded all over town after sunset. It was monumental!

Saints and biblical characters adorn a carossa that tells a story in the life of Christ

Saints and biblical characters adorn all carossas, each telling a story of the life of Christ

Fresh flowers decorate this elaborate diorama of Christ being taken down from the cross

Fresh flowers decorate this elaborate diorama of Christ being taken down from the cross

With the procession happening after sunset, carossas are lit with an accompanying generator to light intricate lamps and other light sources to highlight the life size images

With the procession happening soon after sunset, carossas are lit by an accompanying motorized generator to light intricate lamps and other light sources to highlight the life size biblical images

Two boys with their candles lit get ready to walk the town of Baliwag for the procession

Two boys with their candles lit get ready to walk the town of Baliwag for the procession

The whole community comes out to watch the procession pass by. Two sisters hold a candle while the saints pass by

The whole community comes out to watch the procession pass by. Two sisters, surrounded by their grandchildren, sit by the wall holding a candle each waiting for the saints pass by

Last minute fine tuning before the procession starts

Last minute fine tuning before the procession starts

Entitled Salome, this was by far the most elaborate diorama from all 86 carossas!

Entitled Salome, this was by far the most elaborate diorama from all 86 carossas!

We could not have done this journey without the wonderful help of my dear friends Joonee Gamboa and Joeprey Mariano.  Joonee is a well-known actor in Philippine theater, movies and television.  And wherever we went, he was very subtly mobbed. Even in the dark Joonee was recognized!

Joonee, me and Joeprey surrounded by a mass of people watching the crucifixion

Joonee, me and Joeprey surrounded by a mass of people watching the crucifixion

Wonderful Joonee did not mind having his fans take pictures with him even if it was the nth time

Wonderful Joonee did not mind having his fans take pictures with him even if it was the nth time

If you want to keep updated with our new expedition blog entries, please sign up to our RSS feed by clicking here or clicking on the “Subscribe to this blog!” link at the top right of this page.

And to look up past entries, go all the way down and click into << older posts.  Or go to the Archives on the upper right column of this page.