THE Dalahican Port of Lucena City is at its busiest once again, as all roads – I mean, all ro-ros (roll on, roll off ships) and fastcrafts – lead to the Southern Tagalog island province of Marinduque this Holy Week. Marinduqueños and non-Marinduqueños alike cram the seacrafts to get to the heart-shaped island province that geographically sits right in the heart of the Philippines, to take part in the annual Moriones Festival.
I’ve witnessed the festival quite a few times, when my husband Raff and I went home to Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, in the past during Holy Week break to visit his elder brothers and their families and spend some bonding time with them and their relatives and friends over a short vacation. Raff, who hails from there, is proud of his roots and likes to go home whenever there was an opportunity to. Although we’re staying put in Manila this Holy Week, I can imagine what it must be like in Marinduque at this time of the year.
The Moriones Festival is an annual festival that takes place during Holy Week. It is a colorful festival, as participants are garbed in costumes and masks typical of Roman soldiers during Biblical times. It follows the story of the Roman centurion Longinus, who was blind on one eye, who pierced the side of the crucified Christ. The blood that spurted out of Christ’s side hit his blind eye and fully restored his sight. The miracle converted Longinus to Christianity, as he ran around town proclaiming that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.
The Moriones Festival of Marinduque, which lasts for a week, beginning on Holy Monday and ending on Easter Sunday, has costumed and masked Roman soldiers marching around town every day “searching” for Longinus. The “search” culminates in what is called the Pugutan, which is the capture of Longinus, who is scorned by his fellow Roman soldiers for turning into a believer of Christ, and his beheading. The Pugutan, which is the culminating activity, takes place on Easter Sunday. This Pugutan, however, is not a sad ending to the conversion of Longinus to Christianity. The folk-religious festival ends on a positive note — that after Longinus had fulfilled his mission of spreading the word about the Risen Christ, he courageously accepts his fate and faces death through beheading, knowing fully well that he has found his salvation.
Holy Week activities in Marinduque also includes the unique tradition of the Pabasa, or the musical recitation of Christ’s passion in verses; the Via Crucis, a reenactment of the suffering of Christ on His way to Calvary, with some participants carrying a heavy wooden cross and others inflicting pain on themselves as an act of atonement for their sins; and a Grand Procession of religious images around town on Good Friday.
The Moriones Festival traces its roots to the town of Mogpog in Marinduque in the year 1870, when the parish priest of the said town, Fr. Dionisio Santiago, took the story of Longinus from the Bible (John 19:34) and developed it into a play depicting the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The priest turned it into a Lenten religious activity, and it became such a popular tradition that all towns in Marinduque – Boac, Sta. Cruz, Gasan, Buenavista, Torrijos and, of course, Mogpog – took after it.
The word ‘Morion’ means ‘mask’ or ‘visor’, which is exactly what the Moriones Festival participants wear. The masks, which extend into an elaborate helmet-type headdress, bear a fierce look. These, plus the Roman centurion costumes, have through the years transformed from crudely carved wood and papier-mâché to elegant looking ones made of modern materials by the townsfolks themselves. Wearing the costumes and masks cum headdress is a form of penitence in itself because it’s hot and stifling, and the masks only provide two small holes for vision.
So if you’re looking for a place to visit this Holy Week, one where you can relax and enjoy the sites and the local food and still get to participate in a Lenten religious activity, Marinduque is the perfect place for you.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Manila, simply take a bus bound for Lucena, preferably one that says Dalahican Port so that it goes straight to the port and all you have to do is purchase a ticket for a ro-ro or fastcraft ride bound for Marinduque – Balanacan Port in Mogpog or Cawit Port in Boac, depending on which town you decide to have as your homebase for the duration of your stay in the Southern Tagalog province. Boac is the capital of Marinduque, and Cawit Port is the gateway to Boac, Gasan and Buenavista. Balanacan Port is the gateway to Mogpog, Sta. Cruz and Torrijos. When you get to the port in Marinduque, there will be jeepneys and UV Express vans waiting to take you to your final destination. Should you prefer to bring your car, you can do so by boarding a ro-ro.