Good Friday — today was the big day. I promptly got up on time, had breakfast and was out of the hotel by 8am. I walked to the jeepney terminal and got into one that would first go to Dau and then to San Fernando. The ride to Dau took just 5 minutes, and from there, I was asked to get into another jeepney going to San Fernando city, the capital of Pampanga province.
The ride to San Fernando took around 30 minutes and cost ₱32 ($0.75/€0.52). As soon as I reached the San Fernando city center…
I didn’t know where the jeepney was headed or where it was going to finally stop, but I didn’t wait to find out. As the jeepney slowed down in traffic, I got down.
WARNING: From here on, you are going to see a lot of photographs of people with bloodied-backs. The act of self-flagellation (usually whipping oneself or beating methodically) is a common practice in many religions. In the following context, the act is seen as means of repenting for one’s sins. You may think they are beating themselves to a bloodied state but in reality, they make small cuts on their backs with a blade. They then use those whips with wooden bristles at the end to whip themselves, quite gently ctually. The bristles get stained by blood and eventually spread out out the blood across their backs. But rarely is one profusely bleeding because of the cuts.
It was so hot that I was done with the bottle of water I was carrying in a matter of minutes. There were hawkers and vendors selling ice cream, water bottles and chilled coconut water. I had one glass of that, and then another. Five minutes later, another glass. Dehydration was a major issue in this heat!
I drank another glass of coconut water, bought a bottle of water and left the cathedral.
I walked up to the media registration counter and told them I was from India and I run my own website. I was wearing my “It’s Football, Not Soccer” t-shirt and pointed to the back to show him my url (which was printed on the back). I also showed him the equipment I was carrying, and that was it — I got the pass to go on the media platform! 🙂
Not to feel left out, I set up my tripod, raised it to its highest and mounted the 70-200mm lens on my 7D. Trouble is, it was even more scorching hot here! My sunglasses and sunscreen weren’t enough for the burning heat. Many had umbrellas and I felt I should have carried mine as well. I hadn’t experienced such piercing heat since my years in Bahrain.
All of a sudden…
I stood on the platform at around 11:30pm, and everyone here was getting restless in the heat, wondering when the ‘show’ would start. A lot of worshipers kept coming, but not ‘Jesus’.
Finally, just past 1:45pm…
At this point, few of the locals were cheering as ‘Jesus’ was taken away by medics. One could tell from the laughter that this passion play has become less of a religious event and more, comical of sorts.
Anyway, just when I thought it was all over, the announcement came on to inform us that there are going to be other penitents crucified on the cross. These people volunteer in the hope that, by doing so, they are forgiven for their sins.
There was chatter going around me saying these people who volunteer to be crucified are drunk, so they feel less pain.
By the point, the locals had infiltrated the grounds and were inching their way closer to the crosses to try and get a closer look.
I bumped into the American girl whom I had met on the journey from Baguio to Sagada two days ago. We chatted for a bit and when we saw the people thronging towards the cross, we both assumed the same thing: “Hey, when in Rome…”
Since the hustle and bustle was getting a bit too much, I just used my phone to record this video as they were about to take the nails out of the penitents:
As you can tell from the above video, the locals found all this just as amusing as I did. (Just so you know, I don’t find blood and gore ‘amusing’ — it was this whole act and how the crowds were reacting to it that I found amusing).
In fact this event shouldn’t be taken seriously. These crucifixions aren’t even organized by the church. In fact, the Catholic Church condone it and do not endorse them in anyway.
It was a local theatrical troupe in the 1950s that first reenacted the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It became popular enough to become an annual event. Word spread across the Philippines, and later, the world. It became a media event, and an interesting one, for photographers both amateur and professionals alike.
Looking around you can see why the City of San Fernando continues to host this event. San Pedro Cutud is an impoverished village with little else to offer tourists (same can be said about San Fernando city too). So Good Friday seems to be the only day in their calendar where locals earn good income selling everything from drinks to food. There are thousands who visit San Fernando just for this.
I managed to get a bicycle taxi further up the road, and I asked him to take me back to the cathedral in San Fernando city.
The McDonald’s was full of tourists who had just come back from San Pedro Cutud as well. Freshened up, sat in the air conditioning and enjoyed my meal. After the meal, I sat a few minutes longer and reviewed my photographs. Needless to say, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I came, I saw, I captured.
But the day wasn’t over yet. Though many were making the long journey back to Manila, I stayed back in San Fernando because I had only planned on leaving after I photographed the procession at night.
I just stood outside, hoping the sun would set early and the procession would start some time soon. It was just 5pm, so I knew I had quite a bit of waiting to do.
I walked back to the cathedral and saw people walking as the procession had begun. I asked a police officer as to where they were headed and he told me they would be going around and coming back to the cathedral by sunset. I only wanted to take photos of the procession once it had gotten dark, so I sat inside the cathedral until the sun had completely set.
Sitting inside the cathedral under the fans made me feel sleepy. I guess all that scorching heat and the early morning wake up was getting to me.
After half an hour, I looked outside and by 6:30pm, the sun had set. So I left the cathedral.
And with that, I was done! Phew, what a day!
I walked by myself down the quiet road and tried to catch a jeepney going to Angeles City.
I had to wait around 15 minutes until I finally managed to get a jeepney going to Angeles City.
But the driver eventually asked me, where exactly I wanted to go because he was nearing his final stop.
Which is what I did. Then when I got asked to get down from the second jeepney, I saw SM Clark, but it was still a bit far. So I hopped into another jeepney going up Perimeter Road and got down at the jeepney terminal.
Three jeepneys and ₱50 later, I was back in familiar territory. Even though I wanted to go back to my room and take a bath, I decided to have dinner now itself since I was out anyway. Plus, I was desperately craving some chilled beer!
Despite being Good Friday, some of the nightclubs and casinos were open. I took a stroll down Walking Street and finally ended up sitting at club called Angel Witch, only because it sounded badass and they were playing rock music. They had a few girls dancing to Bon jovi’s “It’s My Life,” but 15 minutes later and a beer down, I was bored and soon left.
I stopped by the Turkish restaurant on the way back, packed a meal and walked back to my room. I got out of my blood-stained clothes (you can’t help it, droplets of blood will splatter on you if you are close to the flagellants) and enjoyed a good, clean shower.
As I copied my photos over to my back-up hard drive, I couldn’t be more happier with my coverage of this, erm, interesting event. The above are just 220 of the 793 photos(yup!) I shot using my three devices: my Canon 7D (mostly), the Canon 450D* and my cellphone.
With the main event of this trip in the bag, I felt this visit to Philippines was well worth my money and time. And to think, I still had more than a week left and a lot more to see in this country!
*Regarding the photos taken using the Canon 450D. I mounted my wide angle lens on the 450D so that I could use the other lenses on my 7D. But I noticed just about every image I shot on the 450 was very blue. I only realized this after I had taken a few shots and I could figure out why the photos came out that way. The tungsten filter wasn’t enable and the white balance was et to auto. I couldn’t afford to restore the camera to factory setting in case it formatted the SD card in the process.
I did try and correct the blueish hue in every image, but only some I could turn from this: