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This Rizal Sect don't really worship Rizal as a god, but actually they honor Rizal and

other Filipino heroes much like Catholics honor saints. They do not pray to our dead
heroes, however. It is easy to still believe in innocence and redemption in Kinabuhayan
(Tagalog word meaning "Redemption"), a barrio on the lower slopes of Mt. Banahaw
less than 3 hours south of Manila by road. With its wooden, gas-lamp lit homes, lush
vegetation, and rustic courtliness, Kinabuhayan belongs to another era. Banahaw - the
center of millenarian revolts against the Spanish and the Americans - is today the base
of many folk-religious sects who, believing the mountain to be a source of mystical
powers, view it as sacred, calling it a New Jerusalem. Despite their different beliefs, the
sects coexist in remarkable live-and-let-live harmony.
The people attends a ritual at the church of one particular sect. Tres Personas, Solo
Dios (Three Persons, One God) - built like a traditional Catholic chapel, with cruciform
windows. The celebrant wears a bishop's hat & a white, gold-trimmed chasuble over a
light blue vestment, and is attended by an acolyte who rings a bell often and with relish.
Both have beautiful long raven hair that reaches below their shoulders. Both are
women.
Over us drift atonal hymns sung by a choir. The Congregation, dressed in white, sits on
chairs. After a while, the celebrant turns around to face us. She greets everyone "Good
Morning," enunciates a few principles of right behavior, and declares the mass over.
She takes a seat, while prayers are said and a hymn sung before the faithful exit & walk
home.
A man declares that the sect has essentially the same beliefs as Catholicism but that
"Catholics follow the wrong route, going every which way. Our path is more direct. And
Christianity came from the Spanish. Our way is truly Filipino." Intensely nationalistic, the
sects regard the country's revolutionary heroes as figures akin to saints. The figure most
venerated by Tres Personas, and indeed by all the Banahaw sects, is Jos Rizal. This
35 year old Tagalog, executed at dawn by the Spanish in 1896, was a 19th century
renaissance man -doctor/scientist, polyglot, novelist, poet, painter, sculptor, city palnner,
and fencer - who came to be known as the Great Malay. He also wrote 2 Spanishlanguage novels, Noli Me Tangere & El Filibusterismo. In them, Rizal is a harsh critic of
friar abuses; the reforms he envisioned would have kept Spanish rule but with a much
reduced role for the Church. According to my impromptu informant, Rizal was about to
establish his own religion when the Spaniards had him executed by firing squad. The
friars had wanted him out of the way to protect the Church's supremacy, rather than for
any role he might have had in fomenting revolution against the civil authorities.
To the residents of Banahaw, Rizal is seen as an avatar of the New Order. However,
where the American colonial rulers had exalted the Great Malay as a national hero

because of his pacifist views - thereby diffusing (so they hoped) violent oppostion to
their rule - the Banahaw sects have claimed him as a way of reasserting their long-held
claims to an indigenous national identity that is inseparable, in their minds, from
transcendent spirituality. In this sense they subvert the hold of both the Catholic Church
and a government in Manila run by the landed elite and long divorced from any real
contact with indigenous sentiment. If in the Cordilleras up north and in Mindanao the
strategy had been to resist actively incursions by the Spanish that of the southern
Luzon, in places like Banahaw, was to seemingly blithely, accept these same intrusions
but to cast them in their own image. One could engage in a guerrilla warfare of the spirit
without killing any intruder, whether Westerner or fellow Filipino.
I ask the man, why women as priests?
"Women are cleaner. And it shouldn't make a difference if women become priests."
Later, we meet the woman who had presided over the mass, Padre Aurelia Ebreo, a
serious 21 year old with a simplicity that is disarming. She explains that she, like other
priests in the sect, has a contract for 7 years with an option to renew her contract. Or
she may opt to marry. It used to be that being a member of the priesthood was forever.
No longer.
"Priesthood?"
"Yes, only women can become priests. And the term, why should it mean only men? In
our religion men cannot act as priests or acolytes. And an acolyte can't become a
priest." What Padre Ebreo doesn't mention but must have known was that much of the
Philippines a has a venerable pre-Christian tradition of female shamans,babaylans healers, sources of power, and repositories of tradition.
She guides us upstairs, into the konbento, or rectory, that is adjacent to the chapel, a
large, almost bare room. On the far wall hangs the sect's banner, patterned after the
PHilippine flag and with 3 triangularly shaped mountains representing the trinity. At the
bottom are portraits of different revolutionary figures. Not surprisingly, the largest is
Rizal's. Why the emphasis on these men? we ask Padre Aurelia. She replies, "Our faith
is in God & Country, that is why we revere our heroes."
According to Padre Aurelia, the sect has no sacraments except for baptism & marriage.
No one prays to the saints, though they are honored. Mass is celebrated 3 times a
month on the 7th, 17th, and 27th, as the number 7 has mystical significance fo the
group (as it had for Ferdinand Marcos). Maintenance costs are apportioned throughout
the community, with most labor given freely. Three times a year, believers from other

provinces flock to Kinabuhayan: on January 27, August 27, & during Holy Week, the
busiest period for the community, when many Catholics come here as well. All are
welcome, Padre Aurelia states.
She invites us to breakfast downstairs in the konbento's large, austere dining room.
Grace is said before & after the meal, though no one makes the sign of the cross. The
woman on my left, Estebana, 55 years old & unmarried, started serving the sect when
she was 12 years old. Like other women at the table, neither priests nor acolytes
(except for Padre Aurelia), she lives here. Some are married, others not, but all
are nagseserbisyo: pledged to serve the sect, in roles similar to those of brothers in a
Catholic priestly community.
- Luis H. Francia, "Eye of the Fish"<<<