Philippine Daily Inquirer
Modernity meets antiquity
The Holy Week provided gave me an excuse to be "far from the madding crowd." Armed with nothing but curiosity, firm resolve to go back to my roots, and an old reliable car, I drove to Naga City, which I left in 1965 after high school in UNC, now an Ayala subsidiary.
This Queen City of Bikol was established in 1575 and earned its status as the third Spanish Royal City in the Spanish East Indies, after Iloilo and Manila. Naga has an estimated 80,000 voters, a labor force of 63,000 and an unemployment rate of 7%. Ironically, this very old city has a population of roughly 205,000, majority of whom are below age 15. In his heydays, national artist Nick Joaquin named Naga as "One of the Seven Golden Cities of the Sun. "Naga is the region's trade, business religious, cultural, industrial, commercial, medical, educational and financial center and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres.
Notable Bicolanos include Joker Arroyo, former Senator, Executive Secretary and a key figure in the People Power EDSA Revolution. Another notable Bicolano is Raul Roco, Aksyon Demokratico's standard-bearer in the 1998 and 2004 Presidential elections. He was very popular with the youth for his efforts to promote honesty and good governance. Bicolanos still recall how Jesse Robredo transformed Naga City from dull and lethargic to one of Asia's most improved cities (Asiaweek 1999). Jesse was a statesman noted for his "tsinelas leadership" and was credited for "dramatically improving ‘stakeholdership' and people participation in governance, in the process restoring Naga to its preeminent position as the premier city of Bicol Region."
Of course, everybody knows the incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo and her advocacy for those in the "laylayan ng lipunan," entertainment brothers Enchong and AJ Dee, and musician Ely Buendia.
On September 18, 1995, Bicolano Inquirer columnist Conrad De Quiros wrote in his column, "Naga is in the throes of progress. Gone are the old places. There used to be a whorehouse on Igualdad Street (what a beautiful name) called, if memory serves, Leonora's. When we were kids, we lifted our gaze in its direction only at risk of being turned into a pillar of salt, like Sodom and Gomorrah."
Conrad wrote further, "Gone too are the calesas. Bicolanos, who used to know how to laugh at themselves, used to tell this joke about the cocheros, or calesa drivers, so overdoing city ways they even put sunglasses on their horses' eyes. Instead, cars and jeepneys now choke the small streets, spewing black smoke into the air. The horse manure of old used to smell, but could always be collected to improve the quality of the stuff that landed at your table."
Conrad concludes, "And gone, too, is a great deal of piety. Or the real kind and not the fanatical one. The fanatical kind is very much around. They're still talking about the way the voyadores - the devotees who escort the Lady of Peñafrancia to the Naga Cathedral and back to the shrine during the fiesta - acted like a pack of dogs, snarling to get a piece of the Lady during the procession. Talk of canine devotion."
Sagñay, pronounced Sangay, was founded by Spanish friars in Albayin the 17th century. It was made part of Camarines Sur in 1846 by order of Spanish Governor General Narciso Claveria. Today, the town has roughly 35,000 residents, and its density is 220 per square kilometer.
My high school classmates invited me to observe the town's holy week rituals. The family of Cynthia Brawner and her brother Manny del Villar owns a corporate farm on a 30-degree slope at the edge of Sagñay. On Holy Wednesday, I found myself in the midst of at least 12,000 people (one-third of the population) who joined the procession. There were a dozen "santos" in their well-decorated "carros" led by San Pedro and tailed at the end by Mater Dolorosa. In between, you'll see saints and apostles, several Marias, and a few versions of the Kristo. When I was young, the Catholic church owned the santos; today the maintenance, care, and participation of these santos have been outsourced to willing devotees who provide, feed, and compensate the voyadores, the drum and xylophone band, and the ladies who sing Latin songs behind the carros. In the midst of this age-old tradition, I couldn't help but notice that carros are no longer carried on the shoulders of the voyadores; they run on wheels and get their light from portable generators. Even the manangsuse their smartphones to light the Latin booklets they read from.
After two and a half hours, and before we returned to the church, my Fit Bit registered 10,000 steps. Either I got blessed for the sacrifice (sweet smell of victory for finishing the long procession) or I am just a sucker for pain (agony of the feet, not defeat), but I went back on Good Friday for another long procession. I was amazed at the level of devotion of the populace, and surprised to see that more than half of those I walked with were teenagers and young children (aged 6 months up). The babies were held close to their mothers' bosoms, as young kids of up to age five sat on their fathers' shoulders, or walked beside their parents and siblings, wearing kiddie sandals that light up with red and blue colors with every step they take. My sprained ankle was killing me, but I couldn't complain when the kids survived the long walk and slight drizzle.
I may not have been born again on Easter Sunday, but I realized that the Filipinos' faith in God and in themselves continues to keep us cohesive as one nation. (Email: email@example.com)