Bacolod City, March 27, 2002 (STAR) By Rolly Espina - Devotees and curious folks and visitors will have the chance once more to see A hundred years of remembering Christ’s passion By Nikko Dizon The Philippine Star 03/27/2002

One would least expect Pasay City’s Malibay district — a stone’s throw away from the bustling MRT Taft station and the notorious girlie bars along Roxas Boulevard and Libertad — to be the birthplace of the cenaculo, one of the country’s oldest Catholic traditions.

The main road itself is a cacophony of maniacally driven jeepneys, pedicabs and busy talipapa stalls, but the pursuit of Mammon has not changed a venerable tradition the district has observed for the past 100 years.

Year after year since its humble beginnings as a quiet community in the early 1900s to the congested middle class town it is today, Malibay observes the cenaculo for the 10 days during the Lenten season, with Malibayeños the main actors in this street theater.

The cenaculo commemorates the history of mankind according to the Christian gospels, starting with the creation and ending with Christ’s passion and death, as well as man’s redemption through His resurrection.

Not even world wars could hinder the people of Malibay from observing the yearly ritual. Was it because of a fierce faith, or a miracle of the town’s patron saint, San Juan Nepomuceno?

"It is the grandest cenaculo ever," says resident Edgar Granada of this year’s edition entitled Isang Siglong Pamana at Panata, in celebration of the Malibay Cenaculo’s centennial year which is supported by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The Granadas are an original Malibay family, generations of which have acted in the religious street theater.

The cenaculo as a tradition is said to have started in the late 1700s as an offshoot of the passion plays. The Malibay Cenaculo is believed to have been culled mainly from "The Holy Passion" written by Gaspar Aquino de Belen in 1703, but also has influences from the Pasyong Granada and Candaba.

The Malibay Cenaculo was started by three men whom Malibayeños call the "Tres Caida": Juan Claudio, the first to essay the role of Jesus Christ; Dionisio Geronimo, also known as "Iciong Pilato" (and Granada’s great grandfather); and a certain "Henyong Pilato."

Born with the play were the Malibay brass band (whose members today are descendants of the original musicians), the Sunduan and the Penitensya.

Granada recalls that nearly two years ago, he came across a book on the cenaculo by cultural historian Nicanor Tiongson, in which the author mentioned that the tradition observed throughout the country – and passed on by traveling performers – started in Pasay City, but couldn’t determine exactly where.

But Granada knew. Realizing that it was time for the Malibay Cenaculo to be recognized for its historical vale, Granada mustered the help of his family and neighbors to found the Malibay Culture and Arts Foundation Inc., a non-stock, non-profit organization devoted mainly to the preservation and promotion of the culture and tradition of the community.

Soon the 37-year-old graphic artist embarked on his own research, interviewing old-time Malibay residents, many of them cenaculistas themselves who validated Tiongson’s suppositions.

"Aside from their stories, they also showed me old photos of the cenaculo, some taken in the early 1900s," Granada narrates. His research also led him to the discovery of a silver cup and chalice circa 1920s that the family of one cenaculista has kept through the years, as well as one of the first scripts.

All these convinced the NCCA to pledge a P1-million grant to the foundation while Pasay City Rep. Connie Dy has allocated some P7 million from her Community Development Fund (CDF). Dy’s husband, Joseph, was chosen by foundation officers to sit as board chairman. Donations from the Philippine Amusement and Games Corp. and other sponsors also poured in.

Granada explains that the Malibay Cenaculo "was never a cenaculong kalye" in terms of production. But with all the financial assistance the foundation has received, the cenaculo’s centennial presentation is even more elaborate.

The money could now cover food for the cast, band payers, and production crew, all of whom have been rehearsing since last October.

The foundation also managed to have the old plaza on C. Jose street redone in a Renaissance-inspired style complete with Roman walls.

Protector from floods, gossip

The people of Malibay believe that all these are blessings – and miracles – granted by San Juan Nepomuceno, martyr of the Holy Confession who also protects the faithful from floods and gossip. The patron saint is very much a part of the Malibayeños’ life.

The 18-inch antique statue has stayed in the district since it was entrusted by a Spanish couple to a Malibay resident in the 1800s. It is passed on to an hermano yearly and is brought to the parish church every Sunday. It is also an important presence in the cenaculo.

Cenaculistas believe that the patron saint is their guide throughout the play. There had been times when residents forgot to bring out the statue, and this, they believed, caused mishaps in the play such as actors forgetting their lines or a sudden rain spoiling the whole event.

It is also important that the cenaculo participants are devoted and committed to the play.

"Dapat isinasaloob and pagganap (The role must be internalized)," says Mang Paking, Granada’s father, who has been directing the cenaculo for the past several years.

Now 72, Mang Paking first joined the cenaculo when he was a teenager and has essayed the roles of Jesus, Herod, St. John the Baptist, the Devil and Pontius Pilate.

It is also a spiritual journey for the ensemble, numbering about 40, some of whom have had several brushes with the law. Rogues they may be, Mang Paking said, "but they turn devotees during the Holy Week and participating in the cenaculo has become their panata (vow)."

Cenaculistas believe their panata has made them strong and given them longevity.

Lola Fausta Flores, an 80-year-old who walks with a cane, is all set to reprise the role of the Virgin Mary in the Paalamanan on Holy Thursday. She has been playing the role for 35 years, she says, starting in 1954. Her mother, Gregoria Tengco, was the Malibay Cenaculo’s first-ever Virgin Mary.

Aside from Lola Fausta, other old-timers still around to witness the 100th year of devotional theater are Lola Luisa Geronimo-de la Cruz, 90, who once played Mary Magdalene, and Esperanza Francisco-Jacinto, 80, who played an angel.

Many of the present-day actors are descendants of the pioneers, including Jun Taytay, who plays Jesus Christ, and Racquel Suarez, who essays the role of Virgin Mary.

"The Malibay Cenaculo must be exclusively participated in by Malibayeños," stressed Granada, explaining why a motion to invite showbiz personalities to act in the play was thumbed down.

Interestingly, the Malibay parish church is not involved in the centennial edition of the cenaculo due to a misunderstanding among the foundation’s board members concerning a certain politician’s role in the event.

The 10-day play started March 21, moving from the stage to the streets, and will end on Easter Sunday.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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