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…
... the 'rituals' had begun
Locals flagellating themselves are referred to as the 'mamalaspas' in Filipino
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.
Despite the blood, this was an all family affair
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.
Everybody was headed towards the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando
They all convene in front of the church. (By the way, it was scorching hot today!)
The flagellants stop in front of the cross, kneel before it or lay flat on the ground
The act of flagellation here is out of devout worship, or so they claim
Despite the bloody appearance, they really don't hit themselves that hard
They are even lightly kicked
As one group of devotees would leave, more would come through the gates
Often led by cross-bearers, called 'mamusan krus'
I can't imagine how their bare backs must have felt in this heat
While devout Catholics bled outside, the more restraint were praying inside
This was a photography opportunity like no other
There were many others just like me who came to capture today's peculiar festivities (Shot on the 450D*)
To us, this was more an 'interesting' event than a religious one
(Shot on 450D*)
Not sure the formation of a heart shape is intentional or not
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!
These nuns were a lot less tepid with their act of penance
More and more flagellants just kept coming
Not sure if they were covering their faces more so that people will not know they took part in this act
Bloody, yes, but none of them were screaming in pain
After spending more than an hour at the cathedral, I felt it was time for me to move on
I drank another glass of coconut water, bought a bottle of water and left the cathedral.
This was the only 'hotel' I could find in the area (Shot on 450D*)
It was right next to the cathedral
There were taxis, both jeepneys and pedal taxis to take people to San Pedro Cutud, where the site of the crucifixion re-enactment would be taking place. I decided to take a cycle taxi.
Shot the following using my Canon 450D*
Flagellants from barangays (villages) walking towards the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando
It was a short ride that took around 5 minutes
The taxi driver dropped me here and told me I had go through this alley to get to the main road leading to the site
This led to the site of the passion play
Today's show would feature horses too I presume
"One photo? One bottle!"
Took around 10 minutes of walking to get to the crucifixion grounds (Shot on 450D*)
The crowds weren't huge yet, which was good as I wanted to come early and find a good spot for myself
The crosses for today's crucifixion
Jesus, or rather the one who playing him today, gets nailed to the cross in the middle
I could see a media platform and I wondered if there was a chance for me to get on there with all the equipment I was carrying
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!
I came hoping to secure a good spot and I end up getting a great spot! (450D*)
The view from here was perfect!
Flagellants walk in this heat barefoot, and then get whipped? The torture!
The locals unfortunately had to watch it from there (Panorama comprised of 8 shots)
To say this isn't a major media event here in the Philippines would be an understatement
The GMA news crew
There were photographers representing reputed press agencies like the Associated Press
They all had some serious gear
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.
Some of the flagellants passed out in the heat and had to be taken away by medics in stretchers (450D*)
It was so hot, people took refuge under the stage. But not for long. Security came by and asked them to please come out. Probably because the authorities didn't want to be held responsible if the stage collapsed on them (450D*)
All of a sudden…
... a mini-tornado formed and began swirling around in the grounds (450D*)
It eventually dispersed but not before taking out a stall's canopy (450D*)
Back on the hilly mound, the flagellants kept on coming (450D*)
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’.
Even this guy in a gown came
This dude came carrying a white cross
Unfortunately, he too passed out due to the heat
He also had to be taken on a stretcher
Where medics were on hand
Finally, just past 1:45pm…
The passion play was about to begin (450D*)
Mother Mary and her entourage made their way
Jesus escorted by Roman soldiers for his impending crucifixion
The actors make their way to the crosses
The (Filipino) Roman soldiers push (Filipino) Jesus around
Jesus gets kicked to the ground
Time for the crucifixion
They lower the cross
Hey, that's the guy who asked for a bottle in exchange for a photograph from earlier :)
They deliver a few lines (Few of the actors like the woman playing Mother Mary had mics)
They raise two other penitents
Though these guys weren't nailed to the cross
Filipino Jesus getting ready
Checks the nails
There goes in the first one!
And here comes the second one
Filipino Jesus didn't have a mic on him, but you could still hear him scream from where I was standing (and some in the crowd jeered and laughed)
"You raise me up...."
In case you had any doubts on whether they actually did nail his palms
If you thought it was over, no. They nail his feet as well.
Though I wondered if they just nailed in between his toes
Some more chants
After a few minutes, they take out the nails
The soldiers bring him down
Wonder where they were taking 'Jesus'
Oh that's right, the hospital
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.
They bring down the other two volunteers
The second batch of penitents took their places
Here they go again
There was chatter going around me saying these people who volunteer to be crucified are drunk, so they feel less pain.
Looking at some of their faces, who knows, could be true. Though it defeats the purpose if they volunteered to do this in a bid to quit their alcoholism in the first place!
Now for the third penitent
I don't know if that medic is capturing this in the name of science :)
The put a lot of effort into this event, with the costumes of that era and all that
Except for, you know, the occasional airplane flying above (450D*)
Shot with the 70-200mm lens
Is there something symbolic of spearing one's heart (or torturing one's nipple?)
I left the media stage and move to the side of the grounds. Plus, the media platform became 'everybody's platform' after the villagers ran on-stage.
There were more penitents in queue
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.
The 'Romans' tried to stop them
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…”
And so we both climbed up to get a closer look
What I really wanted to know is why there isn't any blood and was the nail going all the way through his hand. Gory thoughts, I know, but I was still curious.
I tried to get a closer look but there were so many people in my way
So I held out my cell phone and took a snap. This is what I captured. So I guess they really do nail their legs.
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).
(Taken on the Nokia E72)
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.
Safe to assume these guys take this act very seriously?
Anyway, I had seen enough. It was time for me to leave
Hawkers were making hay while the heat took its toll on me. All I had the past 3 hours were lots of water and ice cream. I couldn't wait to get back to the city and eat something heavy. (Nokia e72)
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.
Walking back, the flagellants were still at it
This was at 3:30pm
The road was jammed, and I had to squeeze through people, cycles, and cars just to get ahead
DC Comics says Congressman Dong Gonzalves is no hero (You may not get the reference if you don't read comics or recognize that logo)
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.
It was nearing 4pm
As always, there's was a McDs and a Jollibee right next to each other. I chose to go to McDonald's.
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 walked back to the cathedral
There were many floats (or 'carrozas') that were going to be used in tonight's procession
The man whom this city is named after
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.
After that, these guys asked for photos. I had to click. And no, I'm not going to put them *all* up. Don't know why they ask for photographs but never ask for a copy. Probably think I'm a newspaper photographer.
I noticed these 'No to RH bill' banners on many of the churches here and I had to ask my friend Aimee what the bill was. Turns out it is a Reproductive Health Bill proposed by the Government to control population growth by encouraging the use of contraceptives -- but the church is against it! It was just one of many things I would later learn about the thin line separating church and state in Philippines.
I thought of sitting inside the cathedral for some time
But instead, I went for a stroll
The carrozas were lining up
There were more carrozas brought in from other areas
Looks like the procession was about to begin
Really, they made 13 shitty sequels?
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.
There's a lot of grilled chicken on the streets of Philippines
I waited for the procession to make its way down this road
The carrozas were lit up, which made them even more beautiful
Definitely more than a thousand people were taking part in this procession
I took one final parting shot as the procession group continued its way into the city
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.
It was 7:15pm when I clicked this photo
I had to wait around 15 minutes until I finally managed to get a jeepney going to Angeles City.
It took nearly half and hour with all the stops until I finally got to Angeles City
But the driver eventually asked me, where exactly I wanted to go because he was nearing his final stop.
I didn't quite recognize any of the surroundings, so I told the driver I needed to go near SM Clark. He said, for that I'd have to hop onto another jeepney passing by Balibago
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: