Once upon not so long ago, Lenten was observed in Puncan in a not so usual way. By Palm Sunday, all the images in the old Spanish church were already draped in black for the symbolic week-long mourning of the death of Christ. Four kubols are erected in the church patio for the pabasa. Flowers and items of herbal medicine (i.e. leaves, barks, etcetera) were thrown in the air in an exultation of joy during the singing of the hosana.
By Monday morning, the marathon pabasa starts until midnight. This will be the case until Wednesday. By Holy Thursday, the pabasa will go on non-stop until the morning of Black Saturday.
But the highlight will be the ritual of the tiniblas --- the unusual Puncan way of accompanying a procession with loud claps from bamboo instruments called palakpak. The tiniblas starts with a short procession of the Nazareno bearing the cross on Holy Thursday. By Good Friday, the procession will be longer with more people accompanying the carriage of the santo bangkay on its way to the old church where a Latin mass will be celebrated led by the old cantor Cisto Sumaoay and his peers. They speak and chant together in varying tones, blending perfectly like the voices of singing angels. Twelve lights --- 11 torches and a Coleman lamp --- provided the funereal glow inside the old church. A light is taken out one after the other under the signal the Cantor Cisto following each recitation of the 12 mysteries of the cross until only the Coleman lamp is left. After this is also taken out and the old church completely enveloped in darkness, a sudden thunderous clapping of a hundred palakpaks will suddenly erupt inside the old church. The din will pervade for some time, then silence… until the next Lenten season.
But as the old church succumbed to the punishment of time, a treasure hunting folly and an earthquake, the sanctity of the tiniblas began to erode. The faithful started covering their faces during the palakpak to ward off the dirt thrown by ruffians unseen in the dark. They began covering their ears too in a fruitless effort to shut off the blasphemous shouts of drunkenness from among some of the crowd.
Perhaps from this disrespect that the old church fell down and the old cantors no longer lead the Latin mass until they too are gone. A new church was built but except for the 3 church bells, nothing remained of the past. And with the new church, the priests came and taught the “right” liturgy. The santo bangkay is no more. It has become the santo intiero.
One of my biggest regret is not being able to see the old church of Puncan when it still existed. Because it’s no longer there, I would not be going to Puncan if not for Oyet P. who asked me and Hermo, the prodigal son of Puncan, to find traces of the tiniblas. What I’ve had were stories from Nana Saling Pineda who grew up with the tiniblas, and an overview from the younger Diego Lomboy who witness its demise. Both, however, have no idea how it originated.
Then I went around shooting the old camino real of Puncan, and the motley train of penitents prostrating themselves under the burning summer sun followed by 6 drunk half-naked men with faces blackened by soot, carrying a soiled blue bagful of cuatro cantos, and beating 2 bamboo poles in an ati-atihan frenzy perhaps in a desperate remembrance of the legend and ritual of the tiniblas.