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Family & Balikbayan Escape

The Good Friday Procession


One of the reasons why the people of San Pablo are wonderful storytellers is because pageantry, larger-than-life presentations, and enchanting leaps of the imagination are woven into the rhythm of their lives.

Take the Holy Week procession on Good Friday, for instance, I've been an avid sidewalk-participant to this Lenten cortege for some fifteen years now, and always I am captivated not just by the procession itself but by the layer upon layer of magic realism that unfolds through the stories the folks whisper about in the days leading up to the procession.

The first layer are the fascinating stories people chose to tell about the statues or poon. These are the life-size Biblical images that are taken on the procession in carozas—ornate platforms traditionally borne on shoulders but are now pulled by devotees because they have become too large to carry. Many have elaborate lights powered by their own generators, the hum of which rival the din of prayers and songs. They talk of the Mater Dolorosa with tears of genuine diamonds that sparkle so brilliantly, they bring the viewer to tears. They whisper about extravagant jewelry from tiaras, chandelier earrings, opera necklaces, and large-stud rings, purchased as a set for the revered statue out of gratitude for a good harvest, and kept in a vault for the rest of the year only to be brought out again at procession time.There is the tale of a poon that is so important to the family that owns it, it sits in the family living room all year-round, and has a place at the dining table. And there are the tales of statues who have inherited land from their grateful patrons so that the earnings from the land will ensure perpetual participation in the Holy Week processions, thus ensuring bountiful harvest year after year.These stories prattled about leading up to the procession piques curiosity and anticipation days before the statues come out in full splendor.

The second layer is the stories of the families that own these statues. There is a silent tension between the old rich San Pablo and those they consider nouveau riche. The old rich San Pablo are the landed gentry descended from coconut barons, who lived lavish lifestyles at the time when the Philippines, specifically San Pablo, was the biggest source of coconut produce in the world. Most prominent of these families today is the Escudero family, whose hacienda lifestyle is showcased in Villa Escudero. Don Ado Escudero, in fact, owns many of the images including the prime stars of the procession — the devastatingly beautiful Mater Dolorosa and the dramatic funeral coach bearing the statue of the dead Christ.The procession is in itself also a showcase of the grandeur of an era gone by, when families of coconut barons lived like royalty. Their poon reflects their wealth and their sacred pledge — panata — to proclaim their gratitude for all the blessings they have received in life. The other batch of families are the new prominent, those who have come to considerable wealth outside of the coconut plantations. Their statues, it is whispered about, tend to be ostentatious to prove their stature and to display their piety. If one watches the procession with a San Pablo insider who points out who owns what statue, the rivalry surfaces in an engaging and colorful way.

The third layer is the rumors that surround the procession itself. Finally resolved in the recent years, there used to be a divide between the Catholic Church-led procession, the Aglipay-led procession, and the one staged by the owners of the many-storied carozas. The Church-led Good Friday procession was solemn and spare, befitting a funeral, just the statue of the dead Christ followed by the statue of his grieving mother. The Aglipay-led procession was equally spare but decidedly distinct in route and in participants. The third procession, led and orchestrated by Don Ado Escudero, is ultimate pageantry, featuring a spectacle of over fifty carozas, all extravagantly adorned, not only from all over Laguna but also from Bulacan. Just imagine the mayhem three processions navigating through the narrow streets of San Pablo can cause. The local government imposed order by issuing permits for different routes and staggering the schedule of the processions, but it was all they could do. In the weeks leading up to the date, there would be heated arguments on who got the best route and, behind closed doors, there would be family debates on which procession to attend. It was perceived a test of loyalty to the Church or to their heritage, and many felt deeply torn. All that is somewhat resolved now, with the Catholic Church and the family-led processions having joined up. Still, for the old timers, the story is worth re-telling.

The fourth layer of stories is the stories of people on the ground experiencing the sights and sounds, and yes, still being moved by the story of the agony of Christ brought to life by the astonishing statues. I remember holding my daughters hand when she was only twelve and explaining, as far as I could, the biblical significance of each caroza — the agony in the garden when Jesus accepts his fate, the horrifying scourging at the pillar, the grief in Veronica's face when she wipes the bloodied face of Christ, the terrible weight of the cross that makes Jesus fall three times, the haunting lamentation of the barefoot women in crimson garb with thorns on their heads chanting a Latin requiem, and the terrible pain of the Virgin Mother who having witnessed her son being tortured still embraced the will of God. I also point out that this grand funeral reflects our people's desire to give Jesus the funeral he never had. If one watches the procession, it is vital to keep this perspective clear. This is still the greatest story ever told, no matter how extravagantly it is adorned.

If you stay at Casa San Pablo for the Holy Week break, we will take you through these layers of stories, escorting you through the procession itself, taking you behind-the-scenes, highlighting the significant carozas, and providing you an unforgettable experience. Book now, our rooms are filling up fast.