The penitential walk of a ‘text clan’

Voltaire Tupaz
The church, located approximately 25 kilometers east of Manila, is a favorite Holy Week pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics

KA-TROPA. Reck Fernando (first from left} and his "text clan" join the annual penitential walk

MANILA, Philippines – Wearing a basketball sando and a cap turned backwards, Reck Fernando is ready to hike for 7 hours to Antipolo City, except that he forgot the name of his pilgrimage destination.

It doesn’t matter. He is joined by his “ka-tropa” (friends) and thousands of others who are bound for the cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage for the annual Holy Week “Alay Lakad” (penitential walk).

The church, located approximately 25 kilometers east of Manila, is a favorite pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics. It is home to the much venerated 16th-century wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, which crossed the Pacific Ocean 6 times, surpassed 3 colonial periods, and survived disasters like fire and earthquakes undamaged. The image is believed to be miraculous.

ALAY-LAKAD. The atmosphere in the penitential walk is relaxed and enjoyable, as groups of friends take time to have fun during their pilgrimage. Photo by Emil Sarmiento


For Fernando, his annual journey to Antipolo is his act of penance.

‘Di ko alam kung saan. Basta nasa tuktok ng bundok. Nasa dulo ng dila ko. Parang nasa tuktok na siya ng bundok. ‘Pag naglalakad kayo pa-akyat, parang ‘yun na yung parusa sa ‘iyo na napakahirap,” Fernando said. (I don’t know where it is. All I know is it’s at the top of the hill. It’s at the tip of my tongue. It seems to be at the top of the hill. When you trudge along the upward trail, it’s like accepting the punishment that is so hard.)

Fernando admits that he has so many sins and vices, foremost of which is joining drinking sessions almost every day.

“Papeteks-peteks lang (Just being idle),” he says about himself. 

Wala naming nagbago, paulit-ulit lang (Nothing has changed, it just keeps on repeating itself),” Fernando confided while his friends laughed.

Fernando brought his “Screamers family,” a group of friends he met through “texting and chatting.”

A texting capital, mobile users in the Philippines, particularly the youth, are forming into various groups called text clans. Fernando’s clan is also called “Scream to Hate Society” (STS). 

Their activities include “eyeball” (meet-up) and basketball. But also drinking and searching for “jowas” (boyfriends or girlfriends), Fernando added.

This is the first time that the group is participating in the penitential walk to Antipolo.

PASAN. A man carries a sack of supplies, a bag of clothes and his child in his arms in what seems to be his penitensya for this year's celebration of Holy Week. Photo by Emil Sarmiento


But this is the 4th time for Fernando. He was 16 years old when his father first took him to the pilgrimage site. 

In a more serious tone, Fernando said that he is hiking in gratitude for the blessings that his family has received this year.

Tatlo na nagtatrabaho sa amin ngayon. Dati yung erpat at ermat ko lang. Ngayon pati na yung pangalawa kong kapatid,” he said. (There are 3 of us now working. Before it was just my father and my mother. Now even my second sibling.)

A second year college student taking up a marketing course at Taguig City University, Fernando said he will also start working this summer to help his family.

The eldest in a brood of 6, Fernando said his only prayer this Holy Week is the security of his family.

If only for that, he would not mind joining again droves of people from Taguig, Tondo, Quiapo and elsewhere in the annual Holy Week journey to Antipolo that stretches until the wee hours of Good Friday.

Gagawin ko ulit. Paulit-ulit lang (I’ll do it again, repeatedly),” Fernando vowed. –

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