THE thing with crucifixions, as part of our folk traditions in Pampanga, is that they will remain as traditions as long as they serve a purpose and they are repeatedly done as rituals, at least from a structuralist – functionalist point of view.
Good Friday is just around the corner and if there is an event that singularly placed the City of San Fernando, Pampanga on the world’s most bizaare tourism maps during the lenten season and made the city notoriously famous it is the crucifixion rites which take place in the villages of San Pedro Cutud, Santa Lucia and San Juan.
What we do know from the extensive field work and research done by anthropologist Nicholas Barker in the late 1990s is that the San Pedro Cutud crucifixion started to coincide with the Via Crucis street play, a localized version of the passion of the Christ written in the vernacular by Ricardo Navarro in 1955, only in 1962 and has been duplicated since in the nearby barangays and even other towns and cities in the Philippines.
San Pedro Cutud has the longest, unbeatable claim to the most number of crucifixions done per year during the Holy Week, followed by Santa Lucia and San Juan. This year marks the 30th year that Ruben Enaje, currently in the Via Crucis’s lead role as Christ, will be nailed on the cross. His “panata” or vow, of service in as much as faith, started in 1986 when he fell from a building.
Currently, Ruben is 55 years old, quite near the average age of male penitents which is pegged at 50 years. One of the oldest participants in the crucifixion rites is Bob Velez at 72 years old. With 12 or more penintents who have themselves nailed on the cross each year, there is no sign of stopping the crucifixion rites or even just slowing down. It has created a ripple effect in which other barangays within the City of San Fernando have been mounting their own versions of street plays and their own set of crucified Christs.
I distinctly remember an incident a few years back when another tourism worker from another province gave me a phone call, inquiring about Kristos for hire, since they wanted to lend an air of authenticity to their own versions of the passion of the Christ. It seems that the performance of crucifixion rites has been mainstreamed in our consciousness as a people, for various motives and reasons, or have been amplified beyond the context in which they originally occurred, giving rise to a culture of crucifixion.
For now, I am sincerely hoping that we will be able to see more than just the crucifixions this coming Lenten season, and focus on other equally important aspects of our local culture.