CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga -- Local and foreign visitors flocked to the crucifixion sites here on Good Friday to witness the reenactment of the passion and death of Jesus Christ.
The spectators, unmindful of the scorching heat, trooped to a man-made calvary hill in Barangay San Pedro Cutud and in the villages of San Juan and Sta. Lucia to watch the "magdarame" (flagellants) whipping themselves and men getting nailed on wooden crosses, an annual tradition which has been observed in the province for 54 years.
This time, 15 men were nailed to crosses in the crucifixion sites while throngs of flagellants walked several kilometers through village streets while beating their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks called "burilyos" and pieces of wood.
The most number of crucifixions were staged in San Pedro Cutud where seven penitents led by 55-year-old sign painter Ruben Enaje, who played the role of Jesus Christ on the Kapampangan version of passion.
Enaje was nailed to cross for 11 minutes instead of the conventional five minutes in the same ritual, which he has undergone for 30 times.
Aside from Enaje, the othes who volunteered to be crucified were Ronald Lazaro, Crisaldo Macaspac, Bernardo Calosa, Ramil Lazaro, Victor Caparas and Byron Gopez.
The other penitents were crucified in two other sites in Barangays Sta. Lucia and San Juan.
The annual ritual started in Barangay Sta. Lucia where three penitents, namely Melchor Montaya, Danilo Ramos and Fernando Mamangun, were nailed to crosses as spectators watched them in pain.
In Barangay San Juan, Wilfredo Salvador and Alex Viray were crucified for 10 and eight times, respectively.
Meanwhile, Rey Sabangan, Erwin Lumacang and Angelito Mengilla were also nailed to crosses in Barangay Lourdes, northwest of Angeles City.
Although many of these penitents have gone through this ordeal a number of times, they still screamed in pain as villagers dressed as Roman centurions hammered four-inch stainless steel nails through their palms and set them aloft on the cross under a blistering heat for a few minutes.
After crucifixion, each of the penitent was taken to a medical tent to have his wounds bandaged.
Critics say the event has become commercialized due to the numerous vendors and peddlers that built stalls near the crucifixion sites.
But to the people involved in it and to the spectators, the annual observance was sacred.
"That's some kind of extreme sacrifice," said 43-year-old Renato del Carmen who witnessed the crucifixion rites for the first time.
To some foreigners, they described the reenactment of Jesus Christ's sufferings as a unique spectacle of religious devotion.
Bobby Smith said it was his first time to watch the crucifixion rites in this city.
Smith travelled all the way from Pennsylvania, USA, along with her friends to witness the Kapampangan's way of observing the Holy Week.
"I've experienced to celebrate Holy Week in other parts of the world. But this kind of crucifixion and flaggelation is unique compared to others," he said.
Ching Pangilinan, city tourism officer, said the number of spectators who witnessed the annual event was estimated at 25,000. (PNA)