Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Learning visit to Morion-duque

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 10-16 April 2015 issue of FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA.  This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.

Mogpog Mayor Senen M. Livelo, Jr. playing with the Banda de Mogpog during the Good Friday procession.

Our long-planned Holy Week vacation in Morion country, Marinduque, finally got underway when we settled service terms with the private van owner. We were previously booked for door-to-door transportation, i.e., from our residences to final destination in that province, but the Land Transportation Office (LTO) cancelled the permits of these service companies. And all the once-a-day direct trips of JAC Liner have been fully booked too.

We dismissed the prediction of a typhoon hitting the Philippines during the coming weekend. We took off for Lucena City late Holy Wednesday afternoon, and it was a fine weather sailing for the Montenegro Shipping’s RoRo (roll on roll off) ferry across Tayabas Bay to Mogpog.  

By Maundy Thursday, the Coast Guard already kept the sea vessels on port. Many did not get to join the Moriones Festival because all sea travels were cancelled. But those who enjoyed Holy Week in the towns almost got stranded because of supertyphoon Chedeng. Those who made it to the first sailing to Lucena on Saturday midnight got to the Southern Luzon Expressway bound for Manila early Easter Sunday morning. 

Top row: ‘Overflowing’ jeepney: common sight on the road; and Mt. Malindig,
a potentially active volcano, as seen from Poctoy White Beach of Torrijos town.
Bottom row: Cultural treasures include heritage houses like this one in Boac, and
Boac Cathedral, a hilltop fortress built in 1580, the oldest structure in the province.

First lesson learned: there is only sea travel to Marinduque at this time, and any time typhoon signal #1 gets hoisted over Quezon province and/or Marinduque, all sea travels are suspended. This seems to be the ‘normal’ in the lives of the people here. Outsiders do not have any other recourse but to fret and wait for clear weather.

Second lesson: there is no air travel. Alas, the airport is newly renovated but it has yet to bring in the tourists, businessmen and investors.  We heard the despair of two beach resort owners, in Mogpog and Gasan: very low occupancy and no income at all.

The uncertainty of sea transport and the long wait at the Lucena port possibly deterred local and foreign tourists to include Marinduque in their Holy Week plans. The museum people said they missed the big flocks of visitors of past seasons.

Those who dared (despite the threat of getting stranded) had much to enjoy in the island: friendly and hospitable people, green environment, natural attractions, the Moryonan (Mogpog) or Moriones Festival (other towns) and other Holy Week traditions uniquely the province’s own.

This heart-shaped island province lies in the Sibuyan Sea, its size roughly 960 square kilometers. It has six towns (no cities!): Mogpog (where Balanakan Port is located), Sta. Cruz (the biggest), Torrijos, Buenavista (the smallest), Gasan and Boac (the capital), in clockwise order of travel along the provincial highway that strings them like a bracelet around the island.  In a private vehicle, with a brief stop-over in each town center, the complete tour would not take more than three hours.

Our tour showed that agriculture is the main economic activity of the people. Coconut trees dominate the landscape and mountain sides. Coconut is their primary product. The folks say that quarantine was effective (no flora was allowed to come through the port), hence, their plantations were not ravaged by the cocolisap pest that wrought havoc in Quezon, Batangas and Laguna in 2013.

Photo-op with the Giant Morions of Gasan.

We saw rice grains being sun dried on the roadsides, and rice stalks still golden yellow all over the fields after the harvest.  Fishing boats on the coastal perimeter of the island reminded that all around are excellent fishing areas, and fishing is a major source of income.

The commercial life of the province is mainly in wholesaling and retailing, majority of which are single proprietorships.  According to their official webpage, unemployment is high; commercial establishments hire one to four employees only.

There are no SM and Ayala shopping malls, no McDonalds, no Jollibees, not even in Boac capital town. These should not be deterrents to come for a visit.

Mogpog Moryons wear 'bulaklakan' masks.
Probably, it’s the frequent isolation due to unfriendly weather that slows down the economic activity in the province. Its income classification, according to National Statistics and Census Bureau reports, is fourth class.  Yes, Boac and Sta. Cruz towns are first class, but Mogpog, Torrijos and Gasan are third class and Buenavista is fourth class.

But eco-tourism should make up for the lack of city pastimes, high-end pleasures and comfort foods. Marinduque is gifted with fine beaches and islands for relaxation, and limestone caves, waterfalls, hills and the potentially active Mt. Malindig volcano for exploration.

As we went around the island, we saw many directional arrows to falls and caves several kilometers away from the road.  For example, Bagumbayan Cave is 16 kms from Sta. Cruz town center. The tourism brochure says this is a “complex of thrilling passages and chambers, underground river where shrimps and crustaceans are in abundance, various geological formations, a waterfalls chamber halfway through the complex. ...” Great, isn’t it?

Taking a boat ride to one of the Tres Reyes islands (Gaspar, Melchor or Baltazar) was tempting with the white beach of the largest island in view from the road. But the Poctoy White Beach in Torrijos was more accessible, and tt’s a Boracay for the public!

We all came to Marinduque for the Moriones Festival, and we had as well a wonderful learning time of the island’s other Holy Week traditions, probably unsullied by ‘outside’ influences because of its frequent isolation, and the strong folk religiosity of the people.

We gathered thea all the towns staged passion plays in their own fashion: the theatrical senakulo and the Via Crucis, a street re-enactment of the passion of Christ.

Moriones of  other towns wear 'romano' or
'centurion' masks.
Our press card enabled us to get close to the characters of the Via Crucis in Boac. The street drama was under the intense heat of the summer sun, and performance was so timed that the Christ must be hanging on the cross at exactly noon.

The Moriones of Boac were all in this event. Some were floggers of Christ and the two thieves Dimas and Hestas. The whips (pang-hampas) are made of abaca rope strands. The number of strands serves as the counters of years for a Mormon to make the annual sacrifice. If he has served it, he can then replace it with a new one.

This is the second year that Ronald Layog, a local radio broadcaster, played Christ. His predecessor played it for 13 years. Arce Mendea started to play the thief Dimas when he was 17 years old, and he has been doing it for 20 years. Edwin Marquez, nicknamed Tuklaw by his friends, succeeded his cousin as the thief Hestas, and he has been doing the role for nine years. The three carry a heavy cross uphill and downhill of Boac's streets. They fall and get flogged on the way to the Golgotha at the Moriones Arena.

Support cast included Donna who has played Maria for 10 years;Charles, who has been John the Beloved also for 10 years; Teresa, who has been Magdalena for eight years; and Joanna, 26, who started as a Morion when she was three years old, has portrayed Veronica these past four years.

Joanna’s father Renan Montalban was the Longinus in the pugutan (beheading) senakulo.  Although he has portrayed that role in other senakulos, this is his second year to be ‘beheaded’.

The Via Crucis was a Good Friday event; the pugutan was held on the evening of Black Saturday.

A scene from the Via Crucis of Boac on Good Friday.

The pugutan started with a ‘replay’ of the crucifixion of the Via Crucis to show that Longinus pierced the side of Christ with his spear. He was also one of the officers guarding the tomb of Jesus. The pugutan depicts his proclamation of the resurrection and Godhood of Christ, and hence, he was sentenced to die by beheading, despite the intercessions of Claudia to her husband, Pontius Pilate.

The cast included professionals. A regional BIR examiner was Pilate, for example. The cast of the Via Crucis and the senakulo take their roles as a form of religious sacrifice.

To the Moryons of Mogpog and the Moriones of other towns, this fulfils a panata (vow), and they start their sacrifice on Holy Monday. They are fully costumed and masked for the rest of the Holy Week.

The cruel face of the masks is usually carved from dapdap wood, and the hood from santol wood. The Mogpog Moryon masks differ from those of other towns. Mogpog’s are bulaklakan although some are romano or centurion.  In other towns, it is predominantly centurion.  There are women Moriones and children too. The young ones carry on a long tradition of their families.

We watched the Good Friday procession of Mogpog. This was truly a people’s devotional event. There were no fashionistas to steal the scene from the colorful Moryons, and no flamboyant decorations of the carrozas (in fact, some are bare). Some devotees bore the andas of their images on their shoulders too.

Male devotees pull the carroza of the Last Supper in the Mogpog Good Friday procession.

What we truly loved was the sight of Mayor Senen M. Livelo, Jr. playing the processional music with the Banda de Mogpog. “Si Mayor, si Mayor,” exclaimed the watchers as the band passed by on its way to church before the procession.

We put a confirmation inquiry on Facebook if he was really Mayor Livelo in the picture we took. Surprise, surprise, he called us up from his mobile, to confirm. He revealed he is 54, single, and is a musician by heart. This is his last term as town executive.

He informed that his great-grandfather founded the band in 1909. Their ancestral house has been the training ground for the town’s musicians through the years.

Morion-duque, we’ll come back!

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