JUANA is on her way to fetch water from the river when the Japanese finally came to Baloc. “So these are the mighty conquerors”, she mused as a column of dusty tanks and trucks passed by carrying small men with small eyes in drab olive uniforms. Except for the guns, they seemed harmless but with their arrival came a pall of unbearable sullenness in the barrio. She quickly turned back to their dampa. Her friend should know.
“I’m worried about Juana”, a shirtless middle aged man said to his wife who is preparing the sinaing for lunch. The wife paused to look at their daughter rush into the abong-abong near their house that serves as the Aglipayano chapel. Juana has been spending most of her time there ever since the santo was brought in. It is where she eats her meals that she says she shares with the santo. She roams the forest everyday to pick fresh flowers for the altar. And they can hear her talking to somebody they can’t see. But they are too afraid to stop her.
A few months after the war, Juana suddenly became ill. All the albularyos that came failed to cure her. “Sinaniban,” they all agreed as they watched Juana’s body contort in periodic spasms, as they tried to discern the strange words she utter. They and the neighbors came to hold vigil and say the novena. But one night when everybody strangely fell asleep, Juana disappeared from her sick bed. They found her the next day prostate before the santo, arms spread like a cross and in deep trance. A week later, she started healing the sick.
One day, Juana’s father and some neighbors are huddled under a kaymito tree. “If it won’t rain today, the rice crop will be lost. Where will we get food?” they worriedly tell each other. “Go and bring out the santo!” commanded Juana who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. The terrified men did as told, too scared to argue with the young woman. When they brought back the santo after carrying it in a prusisyon all over the barrio, it rained hard. It did not stop for 5 days.
And so the sick and those who believed came, seeking Juana’s cure and blessing, lighting red candles to bring their prayers to the santo. And yet another drought came but the santo would not budge as they tried carrying it for the prusisyon. “Go home,” Juana said, “The rain will come tonight”. It did for the next 5 days. And the faithful multitude increased…
BERTONG LANGIS never failed to attend San Geronimo’s feast day in Baloc ever since Olan came to work for the prophets. But it’s more for the pulutan that Olan’s wife prepared so well and the bottles of Colt 45 chilled in the basin of a washing machine. It was only recently when he came in the spirit of the panata (and curiosity), walking to the 3 churches of the Aglipayanos, Father Ahyong’s sect, and the Catholics who share the same patron saint. The highway is clogged with people and stalls. The churches are crammed with the faithful. But the star of the fiesta is Juana’s santo where the mass of believers slowly inch their way from the churchyard gate, inside the church, to the altar to touch the image and say thank you and ask for more favors.
PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) The faithful inching their way to the Aglipay church (2) while those inside are crammed as they pay their devotion (3) to the image of San Geronimo. (4) Vendors and stalls of red candles, (5) Sto. Ninos, and (6) rice cakes litter the church compound and compete for attention. (7) The faithful also come to Fr. Resty Ahyong’s breakaway sect and (8) Baloc’s Roman Catholic church.
NOTE: This story is fiction but Juana is a real person.