8 in the morning, a group of masked, topless, bare feet flagellants were whipping themselves in an alley of a residential area in Pampanga, San Fernando, 2 hours drive North of Manila in Philippines. Flagellants then marched down the avenue to the city’s cathedral, each with their ropes tied with small wooden sticks swaying left and right to hit their already bleeding back, the air was filled with a mist of tiny blood drops and an unsynchronised sound from wooden sticks hitting on flash.
Some say the blood on their backs is fake, not surprising to me, cause you just can’t get all bloody when you just started and those wooden sticks were super smooth, but after what I saw in the cathedral square, I believe they were not mucking around. I saw was a helper using a brush of broken glass, comb down the bare skin of flagellants, there was another guy simply using a razor blade, not for the faint-hearted. I guess the whip is actually just a tool to numb their back, on top of a little help from alcohol, my nose told me.
Since 1950s San Fernando started re-enactment of Stations of the Cross, and then from 1962 appeared first volunteer to be crucified. Since then year after year, people for thanksgiving, some to repent, some to proof their faith, nowadays there are more than 3000 flagellants plus more than 20 to be crucified each year.
On Good Friday different neighbourhood will perform their own crucifixion, I followed one of them and came to a small parking space like empty ground, with 3 holes dug. Two young men were tied to their crosses then stood on both sides, then the older one in maroon rope lay on his cross, a man appeared with a jar holding two 3 inches long silvery nails, now the crowd started to push inward hoping to get a glimpse of the action. After two painful shout, the cross was stood and planted into the hole, the crowd became pretty quiet except some snapping sound effect from mobile phones.
But what most thousands of tourists would see is the grand finale in Cutud, a small bold hill in a suburb of San Fernando. Ben Enaje, who has been playing the role of Jesus since 1987, along with a bunch of fully dressed actors and actresses, equipped with wireless microphones, they re-enacted the Stations of the Cross and finally came to Cutud, where thousands of audience were divided into zones. I was lucky enough to know people to get into a sheltered VIP zone, but not close enough like a camera man who got lifted by a crane.
It was a sunny and superhot day; I got blood all over my clothes and camera, might got sunburn as well, and I was soaking in my own sweat for hours, it was certainly fascinating, but probably I won’t watch it again, no wonder locals tend to stay home eating nuts and watch special entertainment programme on TV on such a Good Friday.