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Gregorio C. Brilliantes
QUIAPO IS A MEMORY, a market place, a state of mind, a concentration of priceless real estate; a dusty, clamorous bus stop, and halo-halo displayed behind cracked plate glass in the Peacetime Cafe at the foot of Quezon Bridge. It is the Samar housemaid’s introduction to the city, the loneliness of the student boarders around Recto and Morayta, the bluster and banter of beer drinkers in the bright afternoon that does not burn away the smell of stale pancit on P. Paterno. Beyond the glare, behind the billboards and the worn concrete of the commercial establishments on Quezon Boulevard, lies one more stratum of Quiapo, a solidified eddy from the high tide of yesterday: one glimpses it through the grilled windows along the quieter streets, ornate furniture salvaged from another century, stone steps leading up to a dark-stained door or down the pale tone of sunlight in a courtyard where children play their immemorial games. Wherever one turns and whatever the moment’s angle of vision, a Quiapo distinct in facade and spirit from what has been espied a block or a minute earlier, reveals itself casually, honestly, without inhibition, for age and customs in the center of the city have long stripped it of that selfconscious modesty which one might find in a younger town. To explore the district on foot is to discover the brash, unceasing, multilayered life of Manila, the numerous currents that defy neat categorization converging on the asphalted island bounded by the city’s university row on the north, the loop of the Estero de San Miguel on the east and south, and the maze of narrow streets off Rizal Avenue on the west.
Downtown Ambience Strangers come and go, served by the sturdy waitresses with sensual mouths and accents formed in distant provinces; a chance meeting on Carriedo consummates a business deal; anxious lovers, college textbooks and folders in hand, disappear behind the grime-encrusted swinging panels of the entrance to the tiny hotel on Evangelista; the lady with the dark glasses in the Mercedes lowers the window long enough to drop a peso coin on the child beggar’s palm.
Melancholy clerks and tired insurance salesmen come out of the double feature in the Times Theater, blinking at the hot, crowded sidewalks, while around the corner, hippodrome addicts in slippers solemly study their racing forms by the counter of their favourite bookie; in a faded house on Bilibid Biego a young girl is playing Chopin on the piano. But to most of the passengers on the overloaded buses slowing down after their routine descent from Quezon Bridge, Quiapo normally offers little distraction but for the lottery-ticket vendors waving their booklets at the crowd already intent on catching another ride, hurrying as if unspeakable penalties awaited all stragglers at the end of the line: the office in Makati, the table set for supper in Sampaloc. “Quiapo . . . Quiapo . . . “ The bus conductor’s cry, heard just about everywhere in Manila, beckons to the commuter bound for the center of the city as brief destination or stopover. More than Avenida Rizal, Plaza Miranda and environs is downtown, as any alert provinciano migrant learns soon enough. For the tourist who must consult a street map the seat of the city’s heart should be evident from the shape and sprawl of the metropolitan boundaries: Quiapo has long replaced Intramuros or Binondo or Santa Cruz as the district from which radiate, as do the spokes of an immense wheele, the transport routes leading to the borders of neighboring provinces. An impious thought, to belabour a geographical point. For an unfriendly missile targeter at this computer the correct impact zone for Metro Manila may well be the Quezon Boulevard side of Quiapo Church, within stoning distance of the plaque reminding passersby of the wisdom of Ramon Magsaysay: Can we defend this in Plaz Miranda? – and right where the vendors of herbs and anting-anting medallions and urine-yellow cure-alls in San Miguel beer bottles clutter the patio beneath the statues of Saint Philip, Simon, Stephen, James the Great and James the Minor, gazing blindly out at the traffic of Manila’s busiest thoroughfare. “Quiapo . . . “ Early in his career as a jeepney driver for a doctor-businessman, Roger Lomibao used to shout himself hoarse in his daily, hourly bid for passengers on the Quiapo-Pasay route. Noy any more. Some years ago he acquired his own jeepney and a kind of professional élan which lets the tin signs on his windshield draw a profitable load on each trip. He has changed address more than once and has logged thousands of kilometres on diverse routes, both north and south of the Pasig, but as with most of his hard-driving brethren, Quiapo remains the central terminal or the chief way station, a lucrative one he would be loath to give up for another. Being his own ma, the husky, curly-
haired farmer’s son from Moncada, Tarlac, can now give himself a day off from the road whenever the spirit moves him. Which is not often, as he has a growing brood to feed and send through parochial school in San Juan, Rizal, where with a married cousin he splits the rent on a cramped apartment. But one day in the year he is definitely, absolutely not going to work the Quiapo route. He will, however, spend most of that day in Quiapo – on foot, barefoot, to be exact, for Roger Lomibao, although not yet a certified member of that vast and rather mysterious fraternity known at the Hijos de Nazareno, is one of the more fervent devotees of the Black Christ. On January 9 he is one of the tens of thousands of men with a vow, a panata, to keep a sweating, struggling, single-minded swarm such as the city never sees except on that day when the Lord of Quiapo, Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, is borne in a procession that is indisputably the most massive, the most spectacular – to the genteel Catholic, no less than the scoffer, the most appalling – manifestation of the popular religion in the Only Christian Nation in Asia. The most authentic, as well one might add, for unlike the more publicized varieties of pageantry designed to lure the foreign tourist, the phenomenon of the Nazareno had its beginnings deep in the faith and frenzy of past centuries. For the past three years Roger Lomibao has been in the thick of the Quiapo fiesta’s awesome throng, the barefoot mob of zealot clad in the traditional white T-shirt and rolled-up pants, towels draped on shoulders or tied around heads, and each impelled by an irresistible fervor, part ritual, part riot. The men train and flounder in a seething mass, ever on the edge of chaos but never toppling over, as if held in check at the crucial moment by a miraculously replenished courtesy toward the Nazareno. The carroza of the Black Christ is borne on the shoulders of the most privileged members of the Nazareno brotherhood. The chief of the Hijos de Nazareno himself, a large, sinewy character named Aling Enriques, rides shotgun, as it were, together with a couple of lieutenants, to push back or knock down the overzealous trying to clamber aboard. The men push and charge toward the Image, scramble up and step on the heads and shoulders of the crowd swirling around the platform, reaching out with towel or handkerchief to touch the Black Christ, to wipe and comfort their suffering Lord, then diving away in a sort of swoon and rolling back over the surface of bobbing heads. Others meanwhile fight for a handhold on the two lengths of rope tied to pull the carriage forward.
Viewed from a high window, the legion massed around the Nazareno has the aspect of a gigantic organism stained brown, black and white, a monstrous jelly with a myriad quivering cells advancing down the streets and alleys of Quiapo. For Roger Lomibao, deep in the main body of the procession, the view scarcely lends itself to such fascinated metaphors, caught as he is in the roar and crush of the crowd. To come as close as he can manage to Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno and receive his special blessing, that is reward enough for enduring the afternoon’s ordeal – the furious heat and blinding sweat, the gasps for air, the gauntlet of elbows and shoulder slamming at ones face. The second time he took part in the procession he was able to grasp for some exultant minutes one of the ropes from the carroza. This year or the next he hopes to achieve the supreme act, the rite of the towel touching the dark wood of the Nazareno. He has vowed to assist in the January rites for nine successive fiestas – he has seven more to go and is confident that the Señor of Quiapo will not deny fulfilment of his vow. One day in the year devoted to consoling the Nazareno is, after all, small recompense for all the favors the Lord has bestowed on him. His children have survived their illnesses; his wife has found work as a casual in a textile factory; his jeepney, despite the numerous hazards of city streets, has suffered nothing more grievous than an occasional dented fender. Blessed are the simple of heart, for theirs are the ecstasies of the spirit n the Quiapo of the Nazareno. Several degrees less rapturous at the rites of January is Deogracias Recto Marquez, who used to contribute bits and pieces to a weekly magazine and who still lives, after 26 years, in the same house on an alley off Bilibid Viejo. In his not-so-vigorous 60’s, he has not been as ardent as the Roger Lomibaos in his annual observance of the Quiapo feast, but, a pious Quiapense in his own fashion, he has walked unshod at least twice in the procession, keeping a prudent distance from the main tumult but in spirit no less solicitous for the Nazareno ever in danger, it seems, of capsizing in the wild sea of devotees.
A Bruising Procession For all the frenzy, the surge and clash of bodies, Deo Marquez has yet to hear of persons being trampled to death in the annual procession; of bruises and fractures perhaps, and fainting spells, but never of any fatalities, for the Nazareno looks after his own – of this Deo Marquez is certain as he is certain that it was the Lord of Quiapo who delivered him once from the ravages of a nervous breakdown. Restored to coherent health, he looks forward to placid retirement from the
Bureau of Telecommunications, in which he has served since first coming to the city, some 40 years ago. Being both Quiapo devotee and resident of long standing, Deo Marquez is familiar with the folk beliefs that cluster about the cult of the Nazareno. These he tends to treat with some amusement, but he is careful to suggest to the curious visitor that in such matters one can hardly perceive where sensible faith ends and fanatic superstition begins. (The fanaticism which wears the robes of legality and politeness, one might add, is more insidious and damnable – because harder to recognize – than any other variety to be encountered in Quiapo). On New Year’s Day, when the Nazareno is carried in a brief, orderly procession around the church, his face conveys omens to the devout – a lighter pallor is a happy augury, a darker countenance is a warning of difficult times. On January , the worshipping masses see more signs – a longer wait for the appearance of the Black Christ outside the church doors is not deemed propitious, and equally dire is the leftward tilt of the Image, in the procession, which begins between two and three in the afternoon and, after negotiating no more than five miles of Quiapo street and alley, ends only toward midnight. Even the strictly secular features of the festival are scrutinized for the fateful signs – for instance, the quality of the stage shows in front of the church or the number of brass bands hired by the Quiapo merchants to provide afternoon serenades in Plaza Miranda as early as mid-December, days before the start of the annual novena. The same bands, as many as a hundred during one memorably prosperous year, parade in the morning of January 9, down the streets already teeming with Manila’s densest crowds, with balloons, streamers, arches; vivid with the smoke from cooking fires, the aroma of lechon roasting over banks of charcoal, rondalla music in congested neighbourhoods, the sounds and smells of the people’s primal festival, for the Quiapo fiesta has become, more than ever, the celebration of the mass, the common horde that has turned the district into the nation’s most popular shrine and market place. Quiapo thus may be said to have turned full circle, for it began not as an enclave of the proud and mighty, as was Intramuros in the dates of the empire, but as a humble rural island, a haven for farmers and fisherfolk. On the streams that isolated the island when Gov. Gen. Santiago de Vera founded the district in 1586 floated the kiyapo, the cabbage-like water lily which gave the place its name. The rivulets themselves, tributaries of the Pasig, would assume a unique role in the history of Quiapo – as part of the Noble and Ever Loyal City’s network of navigable esteros, later as boundaries of the present
district, the canals filled up and paved as streets, such as Estero Cegado. Among the bamboo groves the Spanish Franciscans built Quiapo’s first church, a bamboo-and-nipa affair so small and unprepossessing that the pagan villages, a missionary chronicle relates, were moved one feast day of St. John the Baptist – the water-borne district’s original patron – to approach the friars and ask permission “to adorn and clean the poor church.” Thus did the Baptist act once more as the precursor of Crist, and the parish that had been dedicated to him was to become the domain of the Nazareno. In the 19th century the Image, carved and painted dark by an Aztec artist and brought to Manila by the Recoletos a century earlier, was enshrined in Quiapo at the request of His Eminence, Basilio Sancho, archbishop of Manila.
Inside Story Fire, earthquake and the piety of centuries conspired to lay the foundations of the present church, the fourth on the same site. Built in the mid-1903’s over the ashes of the third edifice, which burned down in 1929, the Church of the Parish of St. John the Baptist underwent a major renovation of its interior in 1964. Redesigned, its high altar is now of Carrara marble. Above the altar the black, whorled, curving pillars of the Nazareno’s shrine have been replaced with Corinthian columns supporting a bronze dome. Tall windows of stained glass flank the shrine and admit more light, chandeliers have been added and electric fans hang on long stems from the ceiling, but Quiapo church is as murky, humid and congested as ever. As in decades past, long lines form to kiss the feet of the Santo Intierro, the Dead Christ, on a baroque catafalque to one side of the main entrance; squads of women walking on their knees fill the aisles; pedestrians shuffle in continuously to pause and pray. The unceasing traffic within, a noisy contrast to the well-bred orderliness of the “fashionable” churches, reflects the tumult outside. If Plaza Miranda is the crossroads of the nation the church which faces it must be the religious tollhouse of the people. So it has been, it seems, since the first prodigious public displays of Friday devotion in the 1920’s gave Manila policemen reason to call for divine intervention. And so it promises to be as long as the Nazareno is enshrined in Quiapo and his host of barefoot sons come to pay him their passionate homage on his feast day, to the dismay, no doubt, of those who prefer Christian piety to be ever so nice and neat and removed from the almost frantic exertions of the more intense devotees of the Black Christ.
The air of commerce in the precincts of the church may have been banished, but what may be impossible to remove, observes Quijano de Manila, is “the fervor of the masses, who insist on worshipping as the spirit moves them and on combining the spiritual with the material. We have only so much time to spare; when we go downtown to worship, we also want, after worshipping, to go shopping, see a movie, eat merienda, and so forth. This is, in a way, right: we relate worship to our daily lives. But the purists would segregate the ‘spiritual’ from the ‘profane’: God must not be associated with the market place. The shrine in Baclaran, too, is faced with the same problem: how to separate the shrine from the market place that popular devotion has generated? The cynical might say that if Quiapo or Baclaran were to be purely ‘spiritual’ – that is, removed entirely from the profane world – the very people who now object to the hucksterism that devotion generates might then object to an antiseptic shrine and argue that God belongs not to the silence of an asylum but to the dust and tumult of the market place. “Downtown is terrible, but downtown is where the Lord is.” And downtown is Quiapo, most specially on the ninth day of January, when out in the afternoon glare, the blare of bands, the hot bedlam of the fiesta, Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno in his robe of gold-brocaded velvet carries his cross in procession, swaying, wavering across Plaza Miranda to Villalobos, then to Echangue, right to P. Gomez, right to Carriedo, left to Evangelista, then down Quezon Boulevard and left under Quezon Bridge to Globo de Oro, and on through the small streets behind the Boulevard and Times theatres, the once-quiet genteel streets of the old Quiapo, streets with names like Barbosa and Escaldo and Norzagaray. The procession turns into R. Hidalgo, where the old Quiapo families used to live, the Paternos and the Aranetas and the Legardas, their proud houses now turned into shops and dormitories, and continues on to A. Farnecio, Duque de Alba, San Rafael, and around Plaza del Carmen, then left to Bilibid Viejo and down to Raon, left to Mendoza and back to R. Hidalgo and Echague, back to Villalobos once more, and finally Plaza Miranda and the church. And all through this long, slow, winding passage the Nazareno keeps his peace, the stark suffering eyes on the graven face staring as on the day of his arrival by galleon from Acapulco, more than 300 years ago, rigid in a pose of pain, and silent, as if understanding and blessing all – the struggling desperate men, the Roger Lomibaos with their towels, the Deo Marquezes with their petitions, the veiled women in purple with their garlands and candles, the brass bands and the jeeps mounted with loudspeakers, the multitude chanting and praying the thousands watching the spectacle from sidewalk, window ledge and rooftop all over Quiapo – and Quiapo itself: Plaza Miranda and its tragedies, the flower boxes of the New Society, the
blind musician-beggar on the steps of the Lacson Underpass, the vendors of herbs and charms, sitsaron and sweepstakes tickets, the pedestrians with Bic ballpens in their shirt pocket, clutching at plastic portfolios, the old provincial folk looking lost and gaping up at the signboards of lawyers, dentists, EENT specialists, fortune tellers, Wa Pac Panciteria, Heavenly Marble Works, Wah Nam, Sensation Cafe, La Elegancia Jewelry, Picache’s Agencia de Empenos, Wah Lay Hotel, Malabon Restaurant ni Aling Bida, Joe’s Department Store, Madonna Shoes, Farmacia de la Quinta, Ma Mon Luk, Lider Mami House, Alim Bazaar, D’congo soda Fountain, Peacetime Cafe, Banco Filipino . . . “Quiapo . . . “ Part challenge, part entreaty, the conductor’s cry in San Andres or Malate, Tondo or San Nicolas, Santa Ana or Pandacan draws the city’s pilgrims to the Quiapo of the Nazareno, who, his children know with a faith beyond all words, all gestures, sees and understands all, blesses and forgives all.