A Touchable God


I’ve always looked at the Feast of the Black Nazarene with both fear and awe. The frentic, fanatic storm surge of human bodies, charged with testosterone, drive a statue to and fro, inching forward in its traditional procession route. It looks like a tiny boat, manned by brave men in yellow, carried along by a rip current of Filipino bodies.

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photo credit: inquirer.net

Every year, the image of the Black Nazarene is dressed up for the traditional Pahalik, or Kissing of the Feet. Devotees of this practice believe that kissing the foot or cross of Jesus is miraculous. The line stretches for about a mile, with much assistance for the disabled and the sick.

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photo credit: GMA News

The following day, January 9th, Poong Nazareno, comes down from its gilded glass box in Quiapo Church to join the masses in a procession around Manila. In 2012, the circuit went on for more than 24 hours. Along the dirty and pockmarked streets of Manila, the god of the masses is mobbed and carried along.

This is not the hopeful thanksgiving to the smiling baby Jesus Sto. Nino. This is not your happy fiesta, like the Sinulog Festival in Cebu where people offer dances, colorful costumes and harvested local goods. The sight of a wretched 9 million marching and chanting “Viva! Viva! Viva Señor Nazareno!” is frightening.

The devotees not only join the image around the procession. The main goal is to touch the icon for the ultimate blessing: prosperity, wellness, hope. Hey, you can even take home the after effect of this blessing by touching it with a humble Good Morning Towel. The towelette touched by the Nazareno, they say, can cure any disease.

Whether it is a good or bad thing will not be debated here. I also wouldn’t want to put the focus on those who attend for the sake of peer pressure and “trip lang” (“just because”). A lot has already been said about the dangers and plain craziness of the feast. I may not necessarily agree with this show of faith but I respect other people’s beliefs.

My fascination is on the symbolism of the image of the Black Nazarene and its effect to the faithful. My favorite analysis is from GMA7’s  Jessica Soho. She says that the Black Nazarene is the best Jesus for the Filipinos. It is dark skinned, like us. It carries a burden, like us. It is down on one knee, just like us.

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photo credit: inquirer.net

Sure, Filipinos adore the Virgin Mary, pure, gentle, smiling, wrapped in a soft silk veil, her skin often white. We offer her flowers, candles and dances. But we hardly go to such great lengths to touch her, kiss her, wipe her skin with our towelettes.

Such physical devotion is reserved only for the god of the masses. A down and out probinsyano who has left his farm, sold his carabao, only to end up selling cigarettes and gum on the street can see his brown skin and pained expression on the image. An underpaid security guard tied to an unstable job longs to be free as he sees the chain around the neck of Jesus. A young mother with an ailing son wishes for the strength in those shoulders burdened by the cross.

How people cross the sea of bodies is a miracle in itself. The Hijos de Nazareno, bodyguards of the Nazarene, ensure that people get their due blessings, carry the image on their shoulders and keep the procession going. Anyone who needs help getting close to the icon need only shout “Kapatid! Tulong!” (Brother! Help!) and fellow devotees would carry you up on their shoulders. They don’t mind if you step on them. It is part of their panata, their promise of service to their god.

The Hijos de Nazareno are mostly men from Manila. Quiapo itself is notorious for street hawkers, fortune tellers, poverty, crime and urban filth. It needs the right kind of god to keep it alive. Some of the devotees are former barumbados, gangsters and ex-convicts, who found redemption in caring for the image. Some of them extend their devotion to the day-to-day maintenance of a four hundred year old wooden statue.

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There seems to be unwritten honor code within the mayhem of the procession. People attend barefoot. Not only does this symbolize sacrifice, but also to avoid hurting others by stepping on toes. Personal space is unheard of. You are expected to keep a cool head in the heat and bustle of the mega-crowd. If somebody faints from heat and exhaustion, they are carried by the crowd to safety. This year, more than 1,600 fell ill or were injured in the procession. It is as dangerous as a frenzied rock concert but a stampede has not been recorded in the two hundred years of this tradition. There is an strange sense of brotherhood in the hustle and bustle, an orderly sort of chaos.

Another miracle of sorts is the hundreds of towelettes tossed up to the image. The Hijos De Nazareno manning the platform will catch the hankies, wipe the image with them and toss them back into the crowd. One merely has to watch and wait patiently as the towel is carried passed back to you by many many hands. It is bad form to steal somebody else’s towelette. After all, how could a stolen blessing be effective?

This show of great community and great faith is also an unsettling reminder of the desperate state of our nation. The Sinulog says “Let’s have fun. Thanks be to God.” The phenomenon in Quiapo says “God help us!” No wonder that 9 million attended this year. I’m guessing that some of them come straight from typhoon or earthquake stricken provinces like Bohol, Leyte and Samar.

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Indeed, if this is a god who steps down among its people, carries their burden along with them, surely, he can also carry the prayers of the Filipino people. I think the most important lesson of the Black Nazareno is that it is an image of a god, trying to stand up even after falling. More than just praying, wiping towels and joining processions, we Filipinos pick up our cross, be strong, and rise again.

Thanks to rappler.com, inquirer.net and gmanetwork.com/news/ for data and images.

PATOK Part 3: It’s more fun riding a Jeepney…


…and not get shot.

Jeepney drivers pass down the trade to their young apprentices at night – less traffic, less passengers, less MMDA and police. Early in the training, they accompany the youths, acting as conductors/barkers so the Padawan can practice driving. Problem is, these kids have seen all six of Vin Diesel’s car movies and I’m not quite sure if they all have their licenses yet.

The day will come when they are trusted to drive by themselves, often accompanied by a fellow youngster who may be dreaming of drifting a jeep down Antipolo someday.

On my way to work, the jeepney cut in front of a car (I didn’t see the make and model) right in front of one of those “executive villages” along Imelda Avenue. I think the jeep made a scratch or dent on that car. So Mr. ExecutiveVillage yelled at Mr.JeepneyDriver through his window. Both vehicles pulled over.

Mr. ExecutiveVillage got down from his car and confronted Mr.JeepneyDriver, complete with all the expletives drivers reserve for such an occasion. Mr.JeepneyDriver tried to apologize profusely. Threats of police, threats of filing a case, blah blah blah.

And then Jeepney Driver started weeping. This ticked off Mr.ExecutiveVillage even more! “Anong iniiyak-iyak mo diyan?” he thundered.

I stayed put thinking “This gon’ be gooood!”

I changed my mind about this live telenovela unfolding before my eyes when the threats of cops turned to threats of guns. “I’m shaking right now!” That’s ExecutiveVillage-speak for “I’m so angry, I’m losing control.”

That was my cue. Exit, Stage Left. I hopped off and stood in the curb waiting for another Jeepney to take me to work.

Did I mention I had bandages around my right arm? Oh yes, my injuries seem to have a special connection with funny jeepney incidents. I was diagnosed with RSI (repetitive strain injury) to my right thumb and wrist. Look it up in Google if you have time. The doctor put my hand in a splint, immobilizing it to a constant thumbs-up sign.

So picture a prim-looking lady in glasses, heels and a pencil skirt, with bandages around her arm, laughing her ass off on the curb, hailing another jeep to work at 8PM. Thumbs up!

I’m not sure if they can tell but I gave the two drivers a big smile and a thumbs-up as I rode away on the next jeepney.

I got to work unscathed and highly entertained. Two Thumbs up!

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PATOK Part 2: It’s more fun riding a Jeepney…


…because there’re always room for more.

I hate these guys. How many people can sit in a Jeepney? Four more. Always. What? Four ants? Four sticks of banana cue? Stopping at every street corner, and nobody’s flagging them down? Asking everyone to squeeze in a bit, please? I should just be paying for half the fare if only half my ass is sitting while everybody’s blood circulation must stop to accommodate the next passenger who will arrive in a few more moments. Who cares if the passengers get late? They just have to stop for five minutes at every damn corner. Siyaman daw! I hate these fuckers.

The jeep stopped at a terminal in Junction, near 7-11. We waited for 5 whole minutes when no one was flagging the jeep down. Finally the conductor/barker, ushered in a few ladies, including one with a crutch.

Of course they had to go back down and give up the ride because the jeep was already full. The lady in a crutch muttered “Kita na ngang disabled ako.”

And me, sitting right next to the conductor was, just had it. I know what it’s like to have a leg injury, having a bad sprain some time ago. Normally, I would just shut up until I reached my destination. Confident in my senyora office-lady clothes, heels and pearls, I went full harpy mode at the conductor “Hindi ka man lang nag-sorry dun sa aleng pilay! Ma-pilayan ka rin sana!”

Shocked, the conductor just scratched his head.

You don’t mess with an insomniac who just finished her shift.

 At 9AM.

 In the summer heat.

PATOK Part 1: It’s more fun riding a Jeepney…


…With Drunks and Mormons!

Working in the night shift comes with both its perks and dangers. I once took a ride with two drunks and four, maybe five, Mormon youths.

The first drunk guy sat right next to me. He reeked of alcohol, but nevertheless, he seemed subdued and held himself together throughout the trip. The guy in front of me was an entirely different story: he was falling asleep all over the place.

As for the young Mormons, around ages 18-19, were merely looking around and at each other, waiting for the right time to take off. For all we know they’re really called Leonardo, Donatello, Rafael and Michelangelo. They could have shown their superpowers and went “Teenage Jeepney Preaching Mormons! Teenage Jeepney Preaching Mormons! Teenage Jeepney Preaching Mormons! Heroes with the Necktie, Mormon Power!” But alas, they were the timid kind, probably thinking “What the hell is going on? I left Salt Lake City for this? Is this how I’m going to die, in a jeepney crash with a Filipino drunk slobbering all over me?”

My mind was on full alert:

Thought A: Mr.MegaDrunk could fall upon me.

Thought B: Mr.MegaDrunk could throw up on me or the Mormon Youths.

Thought C: He’s faking it and I’m about to get mugged.

Thought D: Mr. SemiDrunk is in on the mugging modus operandi.

I would have taken off right away but the two drunken men were nearer towards the jeep entrance. The driver pulled over and the jeep conductor tried to extract MegaDrunk from the vehicle. The guy was too drunk and too buff for the scrawny conductor. We pulled over at the police checkpoint near Junction. MegaDrunk cooperated with the cops.

Mr.SemiDrunk was just looking at the other guy and maybe smirking “Can’t hold your liquor, man?”

I got to work unscathed. … And so did the Mormons.

Footnotes to a Scandal


This post is about a leaked sex video of a well-loved, powerful figure in Pinoy Rock and his artista-search girlfriend.

Call me a prude but I feel uncomfortable about the idea of internet sex scandals. It’s the same feeling I get when I hear torrid secrets about someone. I feel like I’m violating the privacy of living, breathing people who I might bump into in the mall one of these days. But that’s just me. I understand why people get a certain thrill peeking into someone’s private moments. What more if the video features someone who is immensely cool?

 But this post is not about how right or wrong the existence of the video is, it’s about how people reacted to said video.

I heard about the video from a friend over a plate of longsilog. He shared how his “rocker” friends felt about the scandal. They felt upset that this highly respected figure, not only got robbed of his laptop, but also of his dignity. They felt no sympathy, however, for the girl. Slut-shaming words got passed around the lunch table. My friend did not say whether he shared his friends’ opinions. But, by repeating their sympathies, you can guess how he felt about it.

“Why?” I had to ask.

Our lunch party, most of which had watched the video, reasoned that it was she who did all the work. Another round of slut-shaming, please.

After being gobsmacked for a good two minutes, I tried to sound as light-hearted as everyone did about the scandal. “I’d be sad if I did all the work and my man just lay there.”

Someone had to joke “I salute the guy for having his girl do all the necessary work.”

Once again –me —  gobsmacked.  MUST.  REMIND. MYSELF. These are my friends. I know them to be highly intelligent people who have established a career in an egalitarian working environment. This is 2013, not 1952. I could not think of a word to say.

Would it be different if the guy was not the pop-rock superstar of the last 10-20 years (and more years to come, I bet)? Would it be different if she were not a reality show starlet that I’ve never heard of until now? Maybe yes, maybe no. But this sounds eerily familiar to how husbands merely raise eyebrows when they cheat… but wives raise hell when they do. Power breeds reverence. The powerful can do no wrong.

Should we feel bad for these celebrities who got exposed? Sure. Should we call them stupid for keeping that video in an easily-nicked-away laptop, therefore, in effect, exposing themselves? Should we point the finger, instead, to the person who uploaded the video on Facebook. Sure. Maybe.  Who am I to judge?

If we are to feel scorn or sympathy towards the people involved, wouldn’t it be fair to pour it equally on both the male and female stars of the video? After all, (pardon the cliché) it takes two to tango. She’s not just some groupie or a one-night stand. As it turns out, she’s his girlfriend. They were having sex just like millions of other couples do.

 I’m not super worried about the public life of the couple (their private life may be a completely different story) A sex video has not hurt someone’s popularity in the long run. In some cases, it may even boost it. (Hello Maricar? Hello Hayden? Hello Kim Kardashian?) His music will still be as awesome and his band popular in the many years to come.

 I’m more worried about us. How we expose ourselves by making “harmless” jokes and comments about famous and distant people.

 I don’t exactly blame my friends for making such comments.  They were said in jest over a nice lunch group date. It’s not easy to break off from a patriarchal society where boys will be boys, but girls who initiate and enjoy sex are always sluts. We were all raised to think that way.

Sorry if I sound preachy. I hate it when I take things way too seriously, but living in a patriarchal chauvinistic society is no joke.