Senakulo: Passion and protest

MANILA, Philippines – While some of the Filipino faithful re-enact the crucifixion of Christ quite literally, with devotees being nailed to crosses throughout the Philippines during the observance of Holy Week, the "crucified" from the marginalized sectors have given a revolutionary reinterpretation to the Passion play.

The Senakulo – the Filipinized account of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection, highlighted by Christ's crucifixion – has been used to dramatize the plight of the people, as seen through the eyes of protestors.

The Passion play has become a rich source of metaphors to bring forth social, political, and economic issues, ranging from the government's response to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, to Manila's Zero Obstruction Policy, to the demolition and relocation of informal settler families from so-called "danger zones."

The "Kalbaryo ng Mamamayan (Calvary of the People)" has since been staged annually by militant groups, who correlate the Filipino experience and its myriad social ills with the suffering and persecution of Jesus Christ. This year, the Kalbaryo has been turned into a caravan that goes through the 14 stations of the people's cross.

Yolanda survivors' Senakulo

Recently, survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and supporters from the People Surge alliance staged a pre-Holy Week Senakulo to commemorate the fifth month since the super typhoon ravaged Eastern Visayas, particularly Tacloban.

Perhaps echoing the Filipino devotional practice of Visita Iglesia (church visit), Sister Edita Eslopor, chairperson of the 12,000-strong People Surge alliance, met with Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle at the Archbishop's Palace to get the Catholic Church's blessing in their struggle for justice.

The Yolanda survivors and their supporters then went to hear mass at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. Main celebrant Bishop Deogracias Iñiquez, along with several priests from Quiapo Church, also joined the People Surge in their simple solidarity lunch of camote (sweet potatoes) at Plaza Miranda.

The penitensiya (act of repentance) continued with Yolanda survivor Dondoy Mabag of Basey, Western Samar, carrying the "blood-stained" yellow cross from Quiapo Church to Mendiola, as he was being whipped by what the protestors called the "Gang of Five," representing President Benigno Aquino III, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, and Rehabilitation Czar Panfilo Lacson.

The solidarity lunch may be likened to the observance of the Last Supper – the Yolanda survivors as Christ, their supporters as the apostles, and the role of Judas seemingly played by the Aquino administration. The Yolanda survivors said they felt betrayed by the government's response to the disaster and the lack of relief efforts.

The penitensiya is widely believed to be performed by people who want to repent for their sins. But the folk practice is also a ritual of sacrifice done for the welfare of other people. In this Passion protest, there were those who carried the crosses of the fallen.

The penitents and protestors who came from Quiapo Church were met by other militant groups along Recto Avenue, swelling the ranks to over a thousand. The Easter tradition of Salubong may come to mind with the meeting. A Passion protest done years ago used the surging number of protestors in a global mass action against imperialism to symbolize Christ's resurrection.

Mendiola is their Golgotha, the final station of their Senakulo protest. Five months without government support, says the People Surge alliance. This is the Calvary of the Yolanda survivors.

Manila vendors' Calvary

On Holy Monday, the People's Democratic Vendors and Hawkers Association (PEDHVA), a Luneta-based vendors association, also held a Holy Week-themed protest in front of the Manila City Hall and National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) office.


The "Kalbaryo ng Maninindang Manilenyo (Calvary of Manila Vendors)"  is a Passion protest dramatizing the plight of hundreds of vendors, pedicab and tricycle drivers in Manila.

According to Joel Miralpes, spokesperson of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap-Manila, the black crosses symbolize the heavy burden of the poor, the continued oppression of their ilk, and a call to the government to serve the people.

"The vendors, pedicab and tricycle drivers in Manila are calling for the abolition of the Zero Obstruction Policy. We are demanding for job security. End the Calvary of poor Filipinos!" Miralpes said. They are protesting the effects of Mayor Joseph Estrada's Executive Order 004 or the Zero Obstruction Policy, which has reportedly resulted in the impoundment of pedicabs and tricycles, and the confiscation of carts and goods sold by vendors.

Stations of the urban poor's cross

Hundreds of informal settlers from waterway communities in Metro Manila, who are affected by the ongoing government housing project, launched their own "Kalbaryo ng Maralita (Calvary of the Poor)."  They were joined by relocatees in Towerville, Sitio Gaya-Gaya in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, and Sitio Batya in Bocaue, Bulacan.


A revolutionary re-staging of the Stations of the Cross, the mass action was part-protest and part-Visita Iglesia.

The protest theme is not just timely, considering that it is the season of Lent, said Orly Gallana, chairperson of the Kongreso sa Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Taga-Lungsod/ NCR-Rizal chapter.

The protestors held the Stations of the Cross at Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, Most Holy Trinity Parish, San Roque de Sampaloc Parish, and Our Lady of Loreto Parish Church, all in Manila."The suffering of the poor is like the suffering of Jesus," Gallana said.

The mock crucifixion of Christ, the 14th and last station, was held at Mendiola, site of countless rallies and dispersals.