Philippine Daily Inquirer
River tragedy still haunts pagoda fest
BOCAUE, BULACAN— In 1993, nearly 300 people on a floating pagoda died after the structure collapsed in what could be the town’s worst tragedy. The fluvial tradition lives on but the harrowing scenes that unfolded on the Bocaue River 25 years ago still haunt the annual Pagoda Festival. Lessons have been learned, though, and officials keep praying the horror will never happen again.
BOCAUE, BULACAN— A new pagoda, flanked by white angels, sailed around Bulacan’s rivers onSunday for this year’s Feast of the Holy Cross called “Mahal na Poon ng Krus sa Wawa.”
The orange structure carried 250 devotees and the relic of the Holy Cross, found floating on the Wawa part of the Bocaue River centuries ago, as it navigated the river pulled by local boats.
The pagoda procession began on Friday at the start of the “Lutina,” or the novena that culminates on July 8, the feast day celebrated every first or second Sunday of July.
Conchita de la Cruz, one of the organizers, said security numbers were handed out to pagoda passengers, and no pregnant women were allowed aboard—lessons learned as Bocaue also commemorated the tragedy that forced the town to drop the festival 25 years ago.
On July 2, 1993, almost 300 passengers of the pagoda drowned when the craft tipped over due to excess weight.
The town still mourns the dead, who were fished out and lined up outside the parish church where relatives waited to retrieve them. The 1993 pagoda committee was charged with criminal negligence but was absolved after years of trial.
The cross-bearing pagoda never sailed again for 21 years until local residents and businessmen revived the procession in 2014.
Businessman Ruben Mercado, who chaired the 2014 festival committee, said restoring the fluvial festival needed to be done “to relieve people of the guilt and the grief they’ve shouldered for 21 years.”
“The revival also resuscitated local businesses, and gave Bocaue residents a renewed outlook on life,” he added.
Unity of faith
The pagoda also brought together three major Christian denominations—Roman Catholicism, the evangelical Jesus Is Lord (JIL) Church and Iglesia Ni Cristo, said Mayor Joni Villanueva-Tugna.
“The tradition unifies us. I am not Catholic. I amJIL. But we recognize how this festival bridges all beliefs,” Tugna said.