Friday, April 06, 2007

Pampanga: Good Friday in San Fernando, Pampanga

Pampanga is a culture of contrasts, where the genteel elegance of the olden days collides with folk traditions. And the City of San Fernando on Good Friday is an embodiment of that clash, where both cultures come alive in their own ritualistic and colorful displays of faith.

I had to be in San Pedro Cutud before 11 a.m. so that I could watch the Via Crucis, a Kapampangan passion play written in the 1950s which began the crucifixion frenzy that has put San Fernando on the global map. While driving, I was surprised to see so many people lining MacArthur Highway. Then I remembered that there was also a group which made its way around our area and we would also wait for them to pass by when I was a small kid. I wonder how the guy survived all the pushing and the hitting.

In Pampanga, penitents are called magdarame. There are specific names for various types such as mamalaspas or those who flagellate themselves, mamusan krus for the cross-bearers, magsalibatbat for those who crawl on dirt roads, at times under the hot summer sun, and cristos which refers to those who have themselves nailed on crosses.

Anyway, I was expecting heavy traffic in Cutud by this time so I parked my car in the poblacion and took a pedicab to the crucifixion area. You'd be surprised by the number of foreign tourists who attend. On the way, I saw many of them in vehicles with diplomatic plates and all. As always, I forgot to bring my hat and now I have to deal with a badly sunburned face.

If you could not stand the sight of blood, Cutud is just not for you. On the way, you have dozens of flagellants making their way to the crucifixion site as well and it's close to impossible to keep your clothes blood free. As they whip themselves, blood would definitely splatter and it's very difficult to move around to avoid getting hit.

Don't be surprised too if you see everyone eating pork along the way. Bantayan Island is not the only place in the Philippines allowed to eat meat on Good Friday. Today is one of two fiestas celebrated annually in San Pedro Cutud and they've been granted dispensation too!

People do not realize that there is history in the Cutud crucifixions. It may be imitated in other parts of Pampanga and the Philippines, but the Via Crucis is something that makes it culturally significant. It is the only Kapampangan language passion play and it has been done non-stop since the 1950s with the first crucifixion in San Pedro.

The crucifixions start as soon as the Via Crucis makes its way to the hill after going around San Pedro Cutud. This is the only passion play in the entire world where the players are really nailed to the cross. It actually starts with the arrest at the entrance of the barangay. Then several scenes are reenacted around the barangay culminating with the crucifixion in the hill.

Stretchers are on standby, waiting for the penitent to signal the centurions to bring him down. After the first three are finished, the next set prepares to mount the cross. You could hear shrieks from the crowd as they watch the designated spotters hammer the nails into the hands and feet of the penitents. It may look foolish to many but these are acts of faith. Referred to as panata in Kapampangan, these are vows made by the penitents in the hope that their prayers will be answered.

I realized it was already 2 p.m. when it ended. My stomach was already grumbling since I hadn't eaten breakfast. The Via Crucis started late this year and thus ended late. Two years ago, it was done before 1 p.m. so the best time really to be there is 11 a.m. And expect to walk a long distance from the welcome arch of the barangay to the crucifixion site.

For the afternoon, I visited relatives in the different old houses as they were preparing their santos for the Good Friday procession. This was the other half of the clashing cultures I was referring to. There was so much to eat but I kept my food intake down since I was fasting today. I just had some home-made pastries for my late lunch and sampelut (ginataan) for a snack in another house. Dinner was just pako (fiddlehead fern) salad and buko sherbet. To see photos of the food we ate, visit the blog of Mike Mina.

By 4 p.m., the carrozas slowly made their way to the Cathedral. When I got to the plaza, it was already hard to move around. I am amazed by the sheer volume of people who join the Good Friday procession in San Fernando. Add to that the many grand heirloom carrozas and santos, it's really a sight to behold.

Notice also that all the santos are in black. During the Holy Wednesday procession, they are dressed in their symbolic colors. But come Good Friday, they all wear black vestments as a sign of mourning.

When you stand in one area to take photos, you get to say hello to countless friends, relatives and acquaintances who pass by. I saw blogger Spanky Enriquez of the Hizon Clan who owns the image of San Pedro.

Anyway, the procession took close to two hours to complete. By the time it finished, I was just so wasted. Imagine having to endure three hours under the scorching summer sun followed by a long walk of several kilometers around the poblacion for the procession. I think I really need some rest.

Related entry

Crucifixion rites held in San Pedro Cutud every Good Friday
Holy Week practices in the Philippines
Visita iglesia to our heritage churches


  1. Great post you got here, Ivan, very informative. =)
    I was there last year and I can really imagine how much the sun scorches the skin!
    I didn't make it yesterday because of my work, but I think the amount of faith involved in these panatas is a far cry to the blazing heat of that afternoon.

  2. hi ivan, i look forward to witnessing these events in the future . . . my post about the food we ate is now up in my blog . . . thanks for the link-up! happy easter!

  3. Anonymous8.4.07

    A number of years ago, Discovery Channel called me up to ask if they could interview me about flagellations and crucifixions in Pampanga. Although I know these well, having written an article on them plus a book 'Cuaresma', I told them it was time to highlight the more mainstream celebrtions in Pampanga, such as the magnificent processions. They never called me back.

    Pampanguenos -- and Filipinos in general -- should protest against the stereotype the international media, led by the Americans, concerning Filipinos. We're good for news only if it's about disaster, violence, poverty -- or gory things like crucifixions.

    I suspect that in the list of Asian cultures, we are the least respected. They would sooner do a film on Bhutan or Laos than on the fine achievements Pampango, Tagalog or Visayan culture (that is, of the culture we in HCS share). We must protest against this.

    This is one reason why the Philippines is hardly mentioned in Asia Hour or on features on Asian culture.

    Ivan and friends, what do we do? Our work of heritage preservation would be much easier if these landmarks we are trying to save were highlighted by international media. Then our countrymen would take notice. But there is a SUBTLE prejudice against us majority, Lowland Christian Filipinos for not being "exotic" or "Asian" enough.

  4. Anonymous8.4.07

    Makati, el 8 de abril de 2007

    Querido Fernando,

    Gracias por llamarnos la atencion sobre este gravisimo problema de imagen.Tienes razon, solo quieren estrenar lo morboso y feo de Filipinas. Ya llego la hora de tomar cartas en el asunto.

    Un abrazo.

  5. Anonymous8.4.07

    [...] Over a bowl of sampelut [ginataan], I had a chance meeting with award-winning travel blogger Ivan Henares who is also related to the Dayrit orphans. [...]

  6. very informative post, as always.

    btw, it's kinda strange to see a smiling pic of you in front of a guy getting crucified. ;-)

  7. Hi Wil, it's even a surprise that we got ourselves to smile under the scorching sun and after receiving snide remarks from some foreign journalists we disallowed from entering the hill. It's quite a circus to begin with and this year, no one was allowed up the hill until the passion play was over to put some order into the previous chaos we are familiar with every year.

  8. Hi Butch, we're trying to start with the Giant Lantern Festival. While National Geographic was filming Cutud this year, we were building the festival up and telling them how documentary-worthy the practice is. We'll try to follow up on them again.

  9. Anonymous8.4.07

    So National Geographic films Cutud. Did they film the processions that same day? I doubt it. I hate these media for insisting on stereotyping us. I wish we could organize a meet to expose the images that American-led media constantly dwells on when broadcasting the Philippines.

    These images have an effect on tourism and even on the products we wish to sell abroad. We want to market high-end furniture, home accessories and fashion. But this image is constantly subverted by the disasters, shanties, and gore that international media loves to highlight about us. Why would anyone think that 'Made in the Philippines' connotes quality?

    A recent study by Feenella Cannell, a British anthropologist who knows the Philippines quite well, on the attitudes of Americans towards Catholic Filipinos during the 1900s-1940s should be must reading for all Filipino intellectuals. In her essay for 'Spirited Politics', a collection by an author whose name escapes me now, she documents in detail that Protestant Americans of the 1900s-1930s looked down on Lowland Christian Filipinos (meaning our Tagalog, Pampango, Ilocano, Visayan ancestors) for having adopted many Spanish custom and practice, and for adhering to the Church of Rome. These Americans boasted that they felt more at home among the aboriginals of the Cordillera -- even if they were headhunters -- than among Europeanized Tagalogs. Thus the artifacts that they collected and the studies on Filipino culture that they did were largely on those of our then aboriginal brothers and sisters.

    I would hear the same refrain among my American classmates in anthropology at the University of Hawaii, namely that the true Filipino is the aborigine, not us.

    Years ago while taking notes on the crucifixions at Cutud for our book on 'Cuaresma', an American Protestant missionary, who thought I was a foreigner because of my Chinese features told me, "You know these people whipping themselves bloody are not so far removed from headhunting." There you have it. That explains the obsession of American media with these bloody rituals. Supposedly these, and not the ornate baroque processions common all over the islands, represent the 'authentic' Filipino.

    Please do not misunderstand me. In my own personal theology, I lean towards Liberal Protestantism, especially Paul Tillich, even though I cam a Catholic. What I protest against is this prejudice that warps our image.

    Yes, Ivan, project the giant lanterns. Our ambassador to Paris, Jose Zaide, will decorate a street in Paris with several of these lanterns.

    But I wish you had told them too that they commit a GRAVE INJUSTICE towards us Filipinos by completely ignoring the elaborate processions that are truly mainstream. And for that matter by ignoring as well the beautiful churches and mansions that form a backdrop for these.

  10. Anonymous9.4.07

    Thanks Gemma! We need to expose this. We and interested friends in HCS should get together on this. It's an urgent topic for a tertulia. Ultimately this has an impact on our own efforts to preserve and project our built heritage. I suspect one reason why many educated Filipinos are somewhat apologetic about their culture is that they take their cue -- even about how Filipino customs are to be viewed -- from the one people they idolize: The Kano!

    Self-definition is a dialectical process. It involves paying attention not only to how we imagine ourselves to be but also to how we think others imagine us to be. But what if the esteemed Other (in this case the American) thinks poorly of us?

  11. Anonymous9.4.07

    Mr, Ivan,

    I thank you for your site. San Pedro, Cutud is one of the places i grow up. I use to sell refresment in the corner for thirsty tourist :).

    It's so nice to hear a person like you would interest with our culture.

    Thank you so much for this site. I will send it to all my friends, to show them what is good friday meant for us :).

    Agian, thank you so much.

    God bless,

  12. hey ivan!

    great seeing you with "UA", as we call Uncle Albert ",

    he's another prominent cabalen we're rightfully proud of; have you already posted a blog entry on the altar he designed for the St. James Cathedral in Ayala Alabang?

    just holler if our family can help you out for the fiesta, Mr. Hermano Mayor!!!

    p.s. my cousins and i were following the motorcade of Governor Among, and we ended up in SM Clark... and guess who I see malling there? none other than YUGA the GREAT!

  13. Hey Spanky! I was actually taking photos with a cousin when UA came out of his house to watch the procession. So we got to chat a bit about the fiesta too. I feel so old being hermano mayor. Haha!

    Wow! Yuga was in SM Clark?

    How was the motorcade? I read in PDI it stretched 10 kilometers!

  14. very very nice!! I want to go next year, Ivan!

  15. Hi Anton! Just let me know next year if you are coming so we could make arrangements. :)

  16. To Fernando n. zialcita.

    "But this image is constantly subverted by the disasters, shanties, and gore that international media loves to highlight about us"

    I guess a crucifixion sells more than a procession...
    Make sure those shanties disappear, send those street children to school and we will not show it anymore...

  17. Anonymous9.4.07

    Yes, but there are shanties and street children too in other Southeast Asian countries. Nonetheless, international media do report on their dance, their music, their temple rituals. NOT ON US. It is always ONLY on these flagellations and crucifixions. Totally unfair.

    Let's stick to the issue.

    Why is it, come Christmas time, international reportage on Christmas in Asia will talk about how Chinese and Japanese have adopted this alien, Christmas practice but will often ignore our star lanterns? There is a subtle bias at work.

    It's time for us Filipinos to be aware of this. It's time to examine why we are marginalized in "Hour Asia", for instance. Or why, in TV series on martial arts in Asia, our arnis and kali are not at all featured --even though these are popular in Hawaii and the West Coast even among non-Filipinos.

  18. The Philippines is a fascinating country with a lot of extraordinary traditions and fiestas. I am slowly discovering a small part of it.
    But even the DOT in Manila has no clue of what is happening in the provinces. They don’t know the dates, the exact locations…

    You mentioned the outstanding book “Cuaresma”. Isn’t it sad that this is (to my knowledge) the only book you can find on Lenten traditions in the Philippines? I even think that most Filipinos are not aware of those Lenten traditions. How can you expect foreign journalists to know about it? During the “Kordero” in Morong I was the only photographer present. It took me a lot of time to research the “where” and the “when”. Journalists are lazy folks. They want to get it on a golden plate…

    The Philippines need to work urgently on some issues. Information, infrastructure, image building. And don’t forget that one hostage taking destroys years of work.
    The “beautification” of Manila is a step in the right direction. But it should not stop. There is still a lot of work to be done.

    I don’t think foreigners are biased against Filipinos. On the contrary you are known for being friendly and hospitable. Foreigners (and to some extend Filipinos) just don’t know the cultural richness of this country.

    Aren’t you sad when you see those run down but marvellous 19th century old houses with pearl windows and elaborate carvings in San Nicolas. Those houses are truly authentic and magnificent. In 10 years they will all be replaced by concrete buildings. You don’t have those old temples but you got the opportunity to save those old houses…

  19. Anonymous10.4.07

    If we Filipinos don't care, why should the foreign press. I don't think it is 'subtle bias' at all, I think they just don't 'see' us and I think that is because WE don't SEE ourselves. As you say, 'flagellation' sells papers but if our DOT is less than useful...and as someone who was in the travel business for 33 years I can attest to this whole-heartedly...where in the world do we start? We have to project an image to the other Asian countries do...and we certainly have never done this. Is it because we were colonized for centuries and are therefore not used to projecting our OWN culture but instead taking on the mantle of the colonizer? I don't have an answer. Do you? I do think it is a great tragedy. We are a beautiful soul and in country. Why are we then judged by our politicians alone and named number one in corruption in Asia? Shame on us!

  20. Anonymous10.4.07

    Jess and Butch,

    Agreed with your observations. In my travels around Southeast Asia, I noticed we anchor ourselves too much in our colonial-past to the point that we trample upon our native (read: Malay, specifically Tagalog, Visayan, Kampampangan) heritage. Yes, we're a melting pot so are the Malaysian and Singaporean but the difference is that they look at themselves better than we do (well, theyre richer but thats another story) as for us, we're always being apologetic about ourselve or if not, achoring ourselves to our colonial culture (read: American pop) too much to the point of being arrogant. Ive often heard this snide remarks from fellow Pinoys when aruging with Asians 'balu-baluktot naman ang ingles..!' and at one point even heard a fellow Pinoy apologising (!) for singing a Martin Niviera song at a Canadian wedding.

    Why is it, Ive always wondered, that we dont hear the kulintang enough (even in its pop version) in our mainstream radio stations as opposed to the Macarena? Yes, there's modern Filipino rock but really, dont you hear more of American pop in our airwaves? And why do we keep branding our old towns as 'Spanish' (eg Vigan) when these places would have looked exotic in Spain? Take a day tour of Manila and they whisk you off to Intramuros (spanish colonial), Makati (American inpired) and the American Cemtery (Arlington inspired). Now, why would a European or North American visitor visit a place which has shades of their own country?

    I think its time that we have an intropsection and look for a common link (inspiration) with our neighboring countries (if you look at, we have so much in common with our ASEAN neighbors) rather than taking inspiration, always, from the West. That way, we can project our unique hybrid-Asian-Eurpoean

    Maybe then we can be 'exotic' enough to attract the number of tourists Thailand or Malaysia does.

  21. Anonymous11.4.07

    San Fernando. I have lived in San Fernando all my life and I am just beginning to appreciate our heritage. I just have a question, would you happen to know about the history of the paso (or is it spelled as pasu in Kapampangan?) that participate during the good friday procession? My mom says that the paso carries the things that were used during Christ's suffering (ladder, nails, hammer, etc). Are they unique to the province or they are part of the Lenten celebration as a whole?


  22. Kuya Ivan, we were planning to go to anywhere upnorth last week and we settled for Sagada. I just hope I have another me to witness this great passion.

    P.S. I was very sad to see the conditions of the terraces, the UNESCO markers, & the "dying" coffins of Sagada due to neglect. Hope we could do something about this.

  23. @Cathleen, I have photos of the pasos in Multiply. I don't think it's unique to San Fernando but we have really nice icons.

    @U.T.O.Y., we can only save the terraces if the people there are educated and realize the value of it. And please don't call me kuya. Hehe! I noticed in your profile you're older than me! :D

  24. ivan, i like your site. anyway, regarding your comment about the terraces, the terraces are degrading b/c the Igorot people are migrating to cities, not because they are uneducated and don't realize the value of the terraces. Heck, they built the dang thing. Visit

  25. Wil, I agree with you that the Ifugaos are migrating. But my comment is more on educating them about the need to preserve it and preventing damage to the terraces that result from modern structures on them. In Banaue for example, you have concrete houses in many of the terraces.

    As someone who's from there, what's the main reason people build concrete houses on the terraces? Given that reason, isn't there a need to educate them regarding the proper town planning mechanisms to control these constructions?

    I can see how the older generation of Ifugaos value the terraces. But just because they built the dang thing doesn't mean their children will value it, right? Do the younger people in the Cordilleras share the same level of pride for the terraces?

    It's the same reason why many old houses are being sold to junk shops. The current generation of owners do not place value on the structures and the blood, sweat and tears their forefathers invested to build the said structures because it no longer fits their preferences.

  26. Anonymous11.4.07


    I heard somewhere that there's a feeling among the Indegenious People (Ifugaos included) that we the lowlander's want them to 'preserve' their culture not for them but for us, the tourist lowlanders to gawk and make money out off.Of course, thats not the case with the HCS but apart from educating, we should also look at other means to sustain the terraces (economically) and show the Ifugaos that the Rice Terraces is just as part as their (and our) heritage at the same time a means of livelihood without having to migrate to the big cities.

  27. Anonymous13.4.07

    i think i wont be able to stand watching people crucified, when i was like 13, i almost passed out watching "gapang" during my stay at bataan.

  28. Anonymous28.4.07

    I'm sorry to say this, but I strongly believe that giving attention to the Crucifixion Circus that is Cutud isn't the right thing to do.

    It is a national disgrace.


    Because it projects the image of a backward, retrogressive country. No matter how hard we try to rise up from our sluggish economy and advance in technology in order for our country to rise from poverty, the image projected every year in the international media come Holy Week is that of people being nailed to crosses before hordes of oglers. And no matter how hard we try to discourage the international media not to focus on it, we can't. Why? Because we allow the circus to happen, year after year after year. If the Kapampangan clergy really frown on it as they keep on saying, then they should stop it because it is a mockery with global repercussions.

    To show you how this event is already iconic of the Philippines. Let me cite some examples. Years ago, a well known Filipiniana writer wrote a magazine article about Christianity in the Philippines. And what did she use as main picture? The Cutud spectacle, which covered an entire page! And where was the article found? No less than Mabuhay, the inflight magazine of Philippine Airlines.

    Then, around sometime ago, CNN featured it, with the reporter warning viewers that they might not be able to stomach the footage! Sa Tagalog po, hindi po ba ito nakakahiya, na ibang larawan ng Pilipinas ang ipinapakita?

    I am not against our culture at all. I am also a heritage buff and conducted heritage tours for a long time. But the Cutud spectacle (the actual live crucifixions) should not be part of our culture because it is both an insult and a mockery. First of all it has no place in proper Catholic theology, so how much more in our local culture.

    If people want to be crucified, that's their choice, but please, don't make it a public spectacle. Because, I don't want foreigners to be telling me again and again why we are so backward.

  29. Anonymous31.7.07

    Just my personal opinion, but I see the actions of the Cutud penitants as being an impressive demonstration of faith rather than the "gory spectacle" referred to by previous posters.

    Also worth noting that Lenten Flagellants appear around the world (Spain, Italy, Portugal, Latin America, etc) and this is not a "backwards" Philippines phenomenon.

  30. Anonymous28.2.08

    Im having a vacation in the Philippines.Im aiming to see the Via Crusis..... thanks for the information :) Im currently looking for some of my mates who knows transportation and accomodation at Pampanga.


  31. i posted the photo entitled Cristo in my blog here i linked back the photo to your blog.

  32. Anonymous6.5.08

    Kapampangan ku din. meragul king san fernando.

    Just an insight. In the point of view of rational filipinos and civilized westerners, there is something wrong with the event. They cannot stomach the acts and they consider it as bizaare.

    We cannot blame the not so good impression of foreigners towards our country and its culture. We should not point our fingers on them for the unacceptable idea they give to the world regarding the pinoy and the phils. We are very good in finding fault in others, but we dont realize that the blame is on us and we are not doing anything,rational-realistic-effective, to correct the imperfections in our society, especially in our culture.

    Keni kekami, ali ku pagmaragul ing gagawan da queng cutud. Akakit kula deng kayabe ketang spectacle na mag showoff lamu. If you are saying they are doing "an impressive demonstration of faith", then why these people with faith goes back to their pitiful life of gambling, gossiping and other unchristianlike acts after the show? For the tourists, what do they get in seeing the spectacle? are their spirits uplifted? or they are just delighted and entertained seeing someone with guts having palms pierced by nails? (proof of delight: tourist having pictures of themselves on the scene with full of smile).

    Roman Catholic Clerics dont approve these acts but have no balls to enforce what they see right. The government promotes these because they are very good in the tourism industry and I pity these government officials whose minds and very limited and un-visionary.

    Going back to the issue on bad impression of the world toward us. Do we have the right protesting on the not so good news that foreign journalists deliver to the world about the philippines, kaleldo keng cutud, some incompetent medical graduates? Should we be not put to blame on these? Or are we just going to send some protest to Nat Geo, ABC, CNN, TIME, and not address directly the issue? Damnation is on us!

    I may sound too discomforting but i note that am also part of all these. These may also sound repulsive to you because you cannot accept what you are. We are all filipinos and part of each strand of this country. Everyone hurts if there is a bad news about the philippines.

    To set apart myself from the pact of whiny filipinos, I strive to be a better citizen. Just simple things: I buy hapee toothpaste, i follow traffic rules, i dont stick my chewing gum beneath my desk, i do my job with excellence and many others. Now, what do you do to make the philippines better? hope not protesting and whining.

  33. Anonymous10.7.09

    Sampelut can also be called Guinatan, but not ginata-an (which is like tagalized)


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