Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Home by the Beach at Jony’s Beach Resort



The Philippines’ tourism industry rests on the small island of Boracay, off the northwest tip of Panay Island in the Visayas, which has become the number-one getaway of the country, luring thousands of visitors every year. It also lures developers and entrepreneurs, and developments have been rapid over the last twenty years. The once-desolate island, inhabited by small groups of indigenous Ati and occasionally visited by backpackers, now pulsates with resorts, bars and restaurants, especially along White Beach at the western side of the island, where the waters are warm, clear and inviting and the sand along the five-kilometer stretch is like sugar, perhaps the finest in the world.
            There are about 300 resorts in the island, ranging from the grand like the Shangri-la to the modest, which can be a shack, most of them jostling for space along White Beach. Among them is Jony’s, a homey family-run resort at Station 1, northern part of White Beach, in the barangay of Balabag. Its owner, 52-year-old Dionisio Salme, who currently heads the Boracay Foundation, an organization of resort and restaurant owners, is a pioneer and has seen how the island developed. The genial Salme never dreamt of owning a resort.
            “Who would have thought…?” he says in Filipino. “I never dreamt of owning a resort. I was happy just owning a car. I thought that was it. But things happened.”
            Salme just found himself in Boracay by circumstances but went on to make a home here and raise a family. “I thought it was just a temporary assignment, but I got married here and came to raise a family. I even had grandchildren here. I thought maybe it was a blessing, being here in Boracay,” he says.

Salme actually grew up in Pontevedra, Negros Occidental, and went to Manila to continue his studies. He was in third-year high school. He then enrolled in a business administration course at the University of the East and at same time worked for the Elizalde Group of Companies, owned by a prominent family.
            “I worked at the research department,” he recalls. “I was a working student; life was hard. Then I was assigned by my company to Boracay. There were a bit of a problem then. It was Marcos time, and there were land-grabbing issues. So I was sent by my boss to administer his property here in Boracay.”
                The property of the Elizaldes, who own D’Mall and a local radio station in Boracay, still stands today, resisting development, a patch of restricted open space near Jony’s Beach Resort.
Salme first stepped in Boracay on March 2, 1975, and remembers the island to be “empty.”
“It was lonely at first because there were not much people,” he recalls. “Thankfully, we had a group with the Elizalde—eight security guards, some maintenance personnel. We were happy when there is dance in the barrio during fiesta. That was the only enjoyment. Then tuba (coconut wine). There weren’t much beer, just tuba and Tanduay (local brandy brand). Later on, election came. I was asked to be councilor. I said, ‘Why did I get involved here.’ They said, ‘It’s needed.’ I said okay, until it went on. I became a councilor here for a long time. You know, it was Marcos time, and terms got extended.”
            Salme also brought his girlfriend Josefina, who hails from Asingan, Pangasinan. They met when they were still in college; she was taking up nursing and chemistry at the Far Eastern University. When he was assigned to Boracay, they decided to live together. In the early 1980s, they decided to put up a fruit shake stand. By that time, there were tourists trickling in, mostly Swiss and German backpackers, most likely enticed by what German writer Jens Peters had written about Boracay in his guidebook. They came via Puerto Galera in Mindoro, then Tablas or Romblon, then to Boracay. The more affluent then chartered a small plane, which would land in a grassy patch of land in Caticlan.
            These tourists would look for refreshing drinks, which were not offered in the island. Salme got into the fruit shake business when a young Austrian backpacker broached the idea to him. He brought his own blender, powered by a battery, but he had nowhere to recharge his battery. So he packed up and sold the blender to Salme. Salme recalls there was no electricity at that time, and ice was a rarity and even the fruits. One had to go to Kalibo, which would take a whole day. Fortunately, a co-worker gave him a refrigerator, powered by kerosene. They were the only one in the island with a refrigerator and doing shakes. Soon, tourists were lining up for his banana, papaya, mango and pineapple shakes. They also began serving Mexican food—mostly burritos and tacos, which they thought foreigners would like—on tables with umbrellas set up along the beach.
            In 1979, Salme and a friend, a barangay captain, put up two huts near the plaza, which they rented out to tourists. In 1985, he acquired the land, about 800 square meters, where the present resort now stands. The following year, he built four cottages made out of coconut and nipa. Over the years, he built three more. In 1996, they were able to get bank loan to improve the structures and build more rooms. Now, Jony’s Beach Resort consists of one two-storey building and one three-storey building with a total of twenty-one rooms. Across the maid road, close to the beach, is the restaurant, which can accommodate eighty diners, constructed five years ago.
            The resort has an intimate and homey feel to it. The design is a medley of ideas Salme inspired by other resorts. He maintains the veneers of bamboo to affect a tropical island feel. The name is a misspelling of Salme’s nickname, Diony. He retained it because he thought it is also a combination his and his wife’s nicknames.
            The rooms at Jony’s have the de-riguere amenities of any decent resort—air-conditioning, hot and cold showers, cable TVs, telephones, mini-bars and Internet access. Five Superior Rooms are located on the ground floor and have double beds, while the six Deluxe Rooms have queen-size and single beds, bath tubs and verandas. The seven Super Deluxe Rooms have king-size beds, while the Family Room can accommodate four guests. They have two suites. The La Perla Suite is designed for honeymooners with a living area and a small kitchen, while the La Concha Suite, which is the biggest room in the resort with two floors, can accommodate four guests, also with a living area and a small kitchen. Both are at the penthouse level with a spacious terrace, which affords guest a view of the sea.
            With the expansion of the resort, Salme and his family live in another property near the resort. All members are involved in running the resort. His eldest son, Frederick, being an engineer, is in charge of maintenance, while his daughter Jingjing takes care of the marketing and reservations. His youngest son, Dionisio, Jr., or Junjun, is a consultant at the restaurant.
            Jony’s restaurant is the most notable and promising aspect of the resort. Salme still offers his original fruit shakes, now having thirty to forty flavors and blends. They have become a tourist stop, included in many packaged tours. Also, the Mexican items are retained. Salme remembers the time when the Mexican ambassador dine din his restaurant incognito. The ambassador was impressed that he had his own cook teach Salme how to improve the dishes. Now, the Mexican menu got updated and a different treatment with Junjun, who is a culinary arts graduate.
            Junjun was born in Boracay but grew up in Bacolod City, the capital of Salme’s home province, where he went to seminary during high school and studied commerce at the University of St. La Salle. He decided to follow his heart and enrolled at the Center for Culinary Arts Manila. He is currently working at the upscale resort Discovery Shores to gain experience and likely to take over the restaurant. Junjun dreams of putting up his own restaurant in Bacolod City. For Jony’s, he wants the restaurant to have its own identity apart from the resort. He started with naming the restaurant and is experimenting with Maya, which he thinks would unify the Mexican-Filipino offerings of the restaurant—being the name of the Central American group of people as well as the Eurasian tree sparrow, which is ubiquitous in the Philippines.
            For the Mexican part, Junjun introduced several innovative taco varieties. One is the suckling pig taco, which inspired by the pritchon. The suckling pig, marinated in orange juice and lemongrass, is pit-roasted and served with lettuce and pico de gallo. The braised short ribs taco is short ribs braised until tender and served with caramelized onion. Fish lovers can order his beer-battered fish taco. On the other hand, the chorizo taco is inspired by a popular Boracay “street food,” the chori-burger, grilled Aklanon chorizo inside a grilled bun with spicy banana ketchup, which is surprisingly yummy. Aside from tacos, the restaurant also serves chimichangas, fajitas, burritos and quesadillas.
            For the Filipino part, Junjun want to focus more the regional cooking, particularly Aklan and the Visayas. Thus, there are the Aklanon favorites inuburan na manok, which is chicken and banana tree pith cooked in lemongrass and coconut milk, and ginataang tilapia, tilapia fillet poached in coconut cream with lemongrass and ginger. Also in the menu are the chicken binakol, a chicken soup with young coconut water and lemongrass, and chicken inasal, barbecued chicken drenched in annatto seed-infused oil. The sinigang of milkfish belly uses the sour fruit batwan, common in the region.
            A must-try Filipino dish is the pinakbet from his mother’s side. The quintessential Ilocano dish of vegetables and shrimp or fish paste served here came from the recipe her aunt, thus it is called Pinakbet ni Bebe. They use fermented fish sauce from Asingan instead of shrimp paste; lots of tomato, giving the dish a reddish color; and sweet potato for a hint of sweetness. It is topped with crunchy fried pork belly, instead of bagnet, which is hard to source around here.
            For the popular Filipino stewed beef dish caldereta, Junjun uses lots of paprika, inspired by the Austrian goulash, and topped with pieces of feta cheese and slices of black olives.
            He also included a few of his own creations in the menu—the Shrimp Pil Pil, a Spanish-inspired appetizer of spicy seared shrimps with pumpkin seeds; the Oysters and Pearls, Aklan oysters poached in buerre blanc and topped with lumpfish cavaiar; steamed mussels in coconut juice, lemongrass and ginger; and chicken wings and salted mango, fried chicken wings in sweet and spicy sauce and served with salted green mango.
            The restaurant also serves breakfast items, soups, salads, pasta dishes, burgers and sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts.
             The look is also being upgraded to keep up with the casual to fine dining projection. Some parts of resort are likewise undergoing upgrade or renovation to keep us with the ever-changing development of Boracay, all according to the children’s decision. For Salme, he is satisfied with the blessings that keep coming in.



Getting There
Boracay Island is at the northwest tip of Panay Island. There are several flights from Manila to Caticlan, a barangay in Malay, Aklan. From Caticlan, one can ride a tricycle, or walk to the jetty port. From Caticlan, there is a short boat ride to Boracay. Flights can be as fast as 36 minutes. Some planes such as Zest Air, land in Kalibo, the capital of Aklan. From there, there is a two-hour ride to Caticlan. From Iloilo City, Boracay can be reached by bus or van with travel time of four to five hours.

Contact Information
Jony’s Beach Resort can be contacted through telephone number (+63 36) 288-6119, fax number (+63 36) 288-3119, mobile numbers +63920-9267679 and +63922-8443648 and emails reservations@jonysresort.com and jonysboracay@yahoo.com. Log on to Web site www.jonysboracay.com.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pop Goes Japan: Celebrating the Friendship Between Japan and the Philippines


On Philippine-Japanese relationship, many Filipinos think of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, which was short—from 1942 to 1945—and the atrocities associated with it. But the diplomatic relationship and benevolent friendship between the two countries prove to be longer.  Many say it even dates back to as early as the 16th century, before Spanish colonization, with Japanese merchants and traders settling in Luzon. After the war, diplomatic relations were re-established in 1956. Today, we are the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month in July.
According to Maki Mizusawa, Second Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines, the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month started with golden jubilee celebration of the diplomatic relationship between the two countries in 2006. July 23 is designated as Philippines-Japan Friendship Day, whose celebration eventually became more substantial over the years that it necessitates a month of implementation.
            For its fifth year of celebration this year, the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines and the Japan Foundation, Manila (JFM), with partner organizations, present an interesting and admirable lineup of cultural festivities. Japanese culture is one of the most unique and influential in the world. Many Filipinos have been enamored by it. Thus, this year’s festivities will delight lovers of Japanese culture.
The activities include a Japanese film festival, an art exhibit, a J-pop singing contest and concerts. Most them are about contemporary and popular Japanese culture.
The Philippines-Japan Friendship Month this year has also expanded its geographical scope. Aside from activities in the National Capital Region, there will also be activities in Baguio City and Cebu City.
           
The Japanese film festival
            Now on its 15th year, the Eiga Sai Japanese Film Festival remains to be the most popular event in the celebration. For this year, Eiga Sai will go University of the Philippines Film Institute, Baguio, Cebu and Davao, aside from its main screening at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall, in Mandaluyong City, with 10 contemporary films—Lee Sang-il’s Villain, Osamu Katayama’s PEAK –The Rescuers, Yoshinari Nishikori’s Railways, Shinobu Yaguchi’s Happy Flight, Fumihiko Sori’s Tomorrow’s Joe, Yoshihiro Fukagawa’s In His Chart, Keichi Hara’s Colorful, Yoshimitsu Morita’s Abacus and Sword, Daihachi Yoshida’s Permanent Nobara, and Takashi Miike’s Ninja Kids.
The Eiga Sai Japanese Film Festival 2012 was held at the Cinema 4, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong City, from July 5 to 15, 2012. It will be shown at the University of the Philippines Film Institute in Diliman, Quezon City, from Aug. 15 to 21; at the Gaisano South Citimall in Davao City from July 20 to 22; and at Cinema 4, Ayala Center, Cebu City, from  Aug. 7 to 12. For the detailed list of films and film screening schedules, visit www.jfmo.org.ph or call the Japan Foundation, Manila at 811-61-55 to 58.


The concerts of Aki and Kuniko, and Le Velvets
            The musical duo of Aki and Kuniko (Hiroaki Sasaki and Kuniko Obina) also performs in Metro Manila, Baguio and Cebu. This one is a very interesting event. They combine the acoustic guitar and the Japanese traditional instrument koto to create soulful music. They performed at the Abelardo Hall of the UP College of Music, Diliman Quezon City, on July 13;  Conspiracy Garden Café in Quezon City on July 14; and at the University of the Cordilleras Theater in Baguio City on July 16. They will also perform at the 2Jazz ‘n Bluz Bar and Restaurant in Cebu City on July 20; and at the Ayala Center in Cebu City on July 21.
            Japan’s hottest pop-opera, all-male group will also be coming to the Philippines. Le Velvets will sing opera, classic and contemporary pop songs at The Atrium of SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City, on July 22, 7 p.m.


Honoring Toshusai Sharaku
            Perhaps the most intriguing event in the celebration is the exhibit “Sharaku Interpreted by Japan’s Contemporary Artists” which runs from July 10 to Sept. 9 at the Ayala Museum’s Ground Floor Gallery in Makati City.
Toshusai Sharaku is considered as one of the greatest masters of Japanese woodblock printing called ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e is said to have influenced artists of the Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements when Japanese woodblock designs became popular in Europe in the mid-19th century. In late 18th century, Sharaku appeared and produced 140 works from May 1794 to February 1795, then vanished as suddenly as he appeared. In 1910, German scholar Julius Kurth published a book on Sharaku, which eventually resulted in a re-evaluation of the artist.  Sharaku was then firmly established as an outstanding ukiyo-e artist both in and out of Japan, but no one can identify who really was.   
In 1996, a traveling exhibition was put up and has gained an international following. It is now in Metro Manila. More than 80 works of art are on view, made by contemporary graphic designers and visual artists with Sharaku as inspiration. The exhibition is divided into three sections, “Reproductions of Sharaku,” “Sharaku in Graphic Art” and “Homage to Sharaku.” Included in the exhibition are reprints of 28 of his bust portraits, produced by the Adachi Institute of Woodblock Prints, and works by Takashi Murakami, known for his celebrated collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2002. The exhibit shows the avant-garde quality and appeal of Sharaku and demonstrates the striking resonance between ukiyo-e, graphic design, and contemporary art.
Special programs aligned with the exhibit will be held during its run, including an ukiyo-e printmaking demonstration with guest lecturers from the Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints.






Japan Day
Filipinos will get a taste and have an opportunity to appreciate contemporary Japanese pop culture at the event called Japan Day, with the theme “Japan Endless Discovery,” which will be held on July 21 and 22 at the SM Mall of Asia.
 Japan Day is a showcase of Japanese music, film and arts, including the 2012 J-Pop Anime Singing Contest, a mini cosplay event and screening of two anime films,
Ten Filipino finalists, out of 78 entries, will battle it out in the J-Pop Anime Singing Contest, now on its fourth year, at the Music Hall of SM Mall of Asia on July 21, 1 to 5 p.m. The attendant mini cosplay event will have 15 finalists displaying their most creative costumes and imitating the signature moves of their favorite anime characters.
            Additional entertainment will be provided by No Plan Band, composed of employees of the Embassy of Japan. There will also be an anime-making demonstration by Toei Animation Philippines, a meet-and-greet session with Doraemon and Nobita, and a Japanese food tasting session by Yashinoya.
            After the J-Pop Anime Singing Contest grand finale, there will be free screening of Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (July 21, 7 p.m.)and Detective Conan: The Lost Ship in the Sky (July 22, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) at the Cinema 6.





 The Philippines-Japan Friendship Month in Baguio
            Baguio City has a substantial Japanese population. Thus, it has its own celebration of the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month. Now on its third year, the Japanese Tanabata Festival is held in cooperation with the Japanese Association of Northern Luzon, with the themes “Prayer to the Stars” and “Overcoming Disaster” and a set of cultural activities.
            After Metro Manila, Aki and Kuniko will also perform (July 16, 5 p.m.) and conduct a workshop (July 17, 10 a.m.) at the University of Cordilleras Theater. A Philippines-Japan Friendship Day ceremony and cultural exchange will happen at the Baguio City National High School on July 21. The Traditional Dances and Cultural Exchange Program will feature students from universities in Kyoto and the Benguet State University on July 23.

            
 From Aug. 5 to 28, a photo exhibit called “Overcoming the Disaster” and a cosplay/anime/art Exhibit will be mounted at the Baguio Museum. It will feature photos about the Tanabata Festival and include an origami workshop and cosplay and anime activity.
Two documentaries — “Can You See the Lights?: First Film Festival after the Tsunami” and “Setting Sail from the Ruins” — about the Great East Japan Earthquake recovery headline films lined up for a film festival. Other featured films screened are Fukushima Hula Girls, Wanko: The Story of Me, My Family and My Dog, Éclair, Haru’s Journey, and Quartet. These are screened in different venues —July 2 and 3 at the University of Baguio; July 5 and 6 at the Benguet State University; July 7 and 8 at the Baguio Cinematheque; July 11 and 12 at the University of the Cordilleras; July 14 and 15 at the Baguio Cinematheque; July 26 and 27 at the UP Baguio; Aug. 3 and 4 at the Saint Louis University; and Aug. 7 to 12 at the Baguio Museum.
For more information, contact Hidenobu Oguni, president of the Japanese Association of Northern Luzon, at 0910-4113306 and Gemma Estolas (444-7541) of Baguio Museum.

The Philippines-Japan Friendship Month in Cebu
            For the first time, the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month celebration will be brought to Cebu. Aside from the Eiga Sai, there will be a performance of the Wakodaiko Drum Club from Saitama, headlining the festivities, at the Ayala Activity Center in Cebu City on Aug. 11 and 12. Japanese and Filipino dancers will also perform the tradional Awa Odori.
A karaoke sing-along competition features Japanese and Filipino participants. Additionally, there will be a karate show, cosplay, and sushi and japanese noodles eating contest. For more Information, call 231-7321 to 7323.


For more information on the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month, log on to the Embassy of Japan Web site at www.ph.emb-japan.go.jp or at the Japan Foundation, Manila Web site at www.jfmo.org.ph. Call the Embassy of Japan at 551-5710 loc 2318 or send an e-mail to jicc-mnl@ma.mofa.go.jp.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

In Search of the True Santacruzan in Majayjay and Intramuros



Reina Esperanza, Reina Fe and Reina Caridad, representing theological virtues, leaving the Majayjay Church at the Majayjay santacruzan

Neighborhood children played at the grassy front yard of the august brick-and-stone Church of St. Gregory the Great on a Saturday afternoon of May 5, 2012. The atmosphere was languid as the town of Majayjay in Laguna, the province immediately south of Manila. Occasional excursionists stopped by to snap photos. Most likely, they came from Taytay Falls, the town’s most popular attraction. Then, one by one the sagalas arrived at the church, young girls fully made-up and in eye-catching gowns, mostly in white. They arrived in tricycles, jeepneys and cars, accompanied and assisted by their mothers and relatives. The santacruzan became the talk of the quiet town, in jeepneys plying Santa Cruz to Majayjay, in the stores selling snacks and local minani, fried cubes of cassava seasoned with spiced vinegar.
I remembered being in a santacruzan when I was six-years-old as an escort to one of the girls in Plaridel, Bulacan. The most beautiful girls and the ones coming from prominent families were selected for the procession. They were dressed in attractive gowns. Many had escorts who were in Tagalog shirts (barong Tagalog). My memory of it was foggy as was my idea of santacruzans and Flores de Mayo. Many Filipinos now are confused about santacruzans and Flores de Mayo, thinking they are one and the same. There are many additions and alterations to the procession. It has become a pageant in which girls compete to be prettiest and to wear the most beautiful gowns. 
“May is the month of the Flores de Mayo and the Santa Cruz de Mayo. While both are popular devotions, they have separate historical narratives and practices. However, in the course of the centuries, both devotions merge on the 31st of May into one grand pageant called santacruzan. So while the Santa Cruz de Mayo is losing its lessons and meaning, the Flores de Mayo is fast losing its name and essence,” said the Filipino Heritage Festival Inc. (FHFI), a private organization that primarily organizes and initiates activities to promote and spread awareness on Philippine heritage, mainly for the celebration of the National Heritage Month.
The National Heritage Month was created through the signing of Proclamation No. 439 on Aug. 11, 2003, declaring the month of May as National Heritage Month “in recognition of the need to create among the people a consciousness, respect, and pride for the legacies of Filipino cultural history, and love of country.” The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the prime government agency for arts and culture, has provided substantial funding to FHFI to spearhead the National Heritage Month celebration. Over the years FHFI created a substantial line-up of events for the whole month of May—exhibits, performances, tours, revivals of traditions, etc. Because of internal conflicts in the FHFI, the NCCA decided to have its own Subcommission on Cultural Heritage (SCH) to lead the celebration in 2011. The SCH focused more on seminars and workshops. FHFI though still continues to hold their own events, although with smaller funding from the NCCA. This year, FHFI events consisted mostly of exhibits, mostly in malls, whose openings featured performances of groups such as the Bayanihan, the National Folk Dance Company of the Philippines; the Philippine Ballet Theater; the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group; and the Philippine Youth Symphonic Band. Several events were held at heritage sites, especially those declared National Cultural Treasures to highlight their importance. Santacruzans, held as close to the original intent as possible, were one of the highlights. It kicked off at the Majayjay Church, one of the 37 colonial churches declared as National Cultural Treasures, sitting at the foot of Mount Banahaw.
Augustinians missionaries were the first ones to build a church here in Majayjay in the sitio of May-it in 1571. The church, made of wood and bamboo, was eventually destroyed. A church was again built, this time by the Franciscans, in 1578, which was also destroyed by fire. The present church was built from 1616 to 1649.  
The santacruzan was attended by the prime movers of the FHFI, Armita Rufino and Araceli Salas. Salas said they did research on the traditional santacruzan and submitted it to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for verification. They sent guidelines to the parish of Majayjay for the santacruzan.
The procession was preceded by a mass at five in the afternoon. After the mass, the sagalas, the girls who participated, were arranged in the proper order in front of the church, wearing sashes to indicate the characters they were depicting. The procession then went around the town proper. Rufino was disappointed at the outcome. The guideline was not thoroughly followed. Many did not wear the proper costumes for their characters. Only four out of the 38 followed the characters, Rufino reported. Many of the parents seemed unwilling to have their girls be outshined, thus they had them in gaudy gowns. For them, the santacruzan is more of a pageant than a devotion, and it will take time for them to change their perception.
“The Santa Cruz de Mayo, or popularly identified as the santacruzan activity itself, as introduced by the Franciscan missionaries, is a retelling of biblical stories and characters climaxing with the ‘finding of the True Cross’ by Empress Helena and her son Constantine I, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,” stated the FHFI. “This novena procession is normally held early May. The Santa Cruz de Mayo participants were encouraged to dress up in biblical costumes and to hold the appropriate symbols of their roles in the hands. With multiple queens or reinas, the pageant has become a fashion show, an unfortunate turn of event discouraged by the Church. For this reason, the Filipino Heritage Festival is encouraging a return to the original practice and purpose of the Flores de Mayo and the Santa Cruz de Mayo for people to realize its inherent religious significance and be aware of its cultural value in our nation’s history.”


La Divina Pastora at the Majayjay santacruzan



Church of St. Gregory the Great  of Majayjay, Laguna


















Lara Maigue as Reina Elena escorted by Constantino at the Majayjay santacruzan
A more accurate santacruzan was held on May 27, 2012, in Intramuros, the historic district of Manila where the Spanish colonizers built starting in the late 16th century a fortified community and seat of government. The event started with a program at the Fort Santiago, where national hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned before being executed. Dr. Jaime Laya, former chairman of the NCCA and current head of the NCCA’s National Committee on Monuments and Sites, talked about Flores de Mayo and the santacruzan.
The Flores de Mayo, meaning “flowers of May” in Spanish, is a month-long devotion to the Virgin Mary. It is said that this practice started in Bulacan after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and after the publication of Mariano Sevilla’s translation of the devotional Flores de Maria or Mariquit na Bulaclac na sa Pagninilaynilay sa Buong Buan nang Mayo ay Inihahandog nang manga Devoto cay Maria Santisima (The Flowers of Mary or the Beautiful Flowers in the Meditations During the Whole Month of May are Offered by Devotees to Mary, the Holiest) in 1867.
During Flores de Mayo, masses are held and flowers are offered at the altar of the Virgin Mary. This concludes on May 31 with a procession and the Flores de Mayo ball. Laya said the ball is “like a debutante’s ball,” and “the procession is as long as they want,” participated in by young, teenage girls.
According to FHFI, “The Flores de Mayo, which is usually held on the end of May, is the culmination of the daily floral offerings by the little girls to the church during the whole month novena to the Blessed Mother. The participants in this procession represent the embodiment and attribute of the Blessed Mother as recited in the Litany of the Holy Rosary. The Litany runs on to about 50 such symbolisms, and there could be therefore as many sagalas in the procession.”
On the other hand, the santacruzan is occasioned by the May 3 feast of the Holy Cross, according to Laya, introduced by the Franciscans, who also introduced the practice of putting up of belens (crèche) during Christmas. Then, May 3 was commemorated as the date of the finding of the Holy Cross, with September 14 commemorated as the rescue of the cross from the Sassanid Persians. To avoid duplication, Pope John XXIII designated just September 14 as the feast of the Holy Cross in 1960.
The santacruzan, Filipinized word for “Holy Cross activity,” re-enacts and commemorates the finding of the True Cross. The story of the search for the Holy Cross is fascinating, full of legends and having many versions. According to legends that spread widely throughout Western Europe, the cross on which Jesus was crucified was discovered in 326 by Flavia Julia Helena Augusta or Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Several early writers wrote that Helena, (born c.255 and died c.330 AD), after Christianity was granted freedom of practice throughout the Roman Empire in 312 A.D., journeyed to the Holy Land, establishing churches and putting up relief agencies for the poor along the way.  Eventually, she discovered where the three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves were hidden. The Holy Sepulcher, originally a site of veneration for the Christian community in Jerusalem, was buried, and on top of it, a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Venus was built.
According to Laya, the santacruzan went on for nine sequential evenings. While the Flores de Mayo procession was participated in by young girls and teenagers, the santacruzan was intended for children. Characters in the santacruzan are from Helena’s pilgrimage as well as from the Old and New Testaments, related to the crucifixion and the search for the cross.
Methuselah is the first character, said to the oldest person who has lived in the Bible. Because he is very, very old, he can barely walk and rides on a kariton being pushed by someone, according to Laya. He also remembered in old santacruzans that Methuselah had a kawali and looked like “nagsasangag,” frying rice. He later found out that Methuselah is churning dust or sand to symbolize morality, the fact that we all turn to dust. 
The next character symbolizes “the population before enlightenment” or the coming of Jesus Christ. Dalagang Bukid, literally “farm maiden,” represents the peasants not yet converted to Christianity. The Queen of Sheba, which symbolizes the search for wisdom, is carried in a hammock because she is a queen. Since participants are children, it is possible to do that, said Laya. According to legends, the Queen of Sheba had a portent about the wood used to build a bridge over which she passed on her way to meet King Solomon. The wood is said to come from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and would be eventually used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Next are more women characters, who prefigure the coming of the Virgin Mary, said Laya. The star of the procession is Empress Helena, accompanied by a little boy who portrays the Emperor Constantine, who was the first ruler to proclaim Christianity as the state religion. Concluding the procession is the image of the Virgin Mary and an empty cross.
The order of the procession is (1) band; (2)  ceriales, three boys, two of them carrying candles on poles and one carrying the cross; (3) Banderadas, two girls, one carrying a white flag and another gold, symbolizing the arrival of Christianity; (4) Methuselah (locally known as Metusalem); (5) Dalagang Bukid; (6) La Divina Pastora, symbolizing the guide of all Christians and holding a shepherd’s staff; (7) Fe (Queen Faith), symbolizing faith, a theological virtue, and holding a cross; (8) Esperanza (Queen Hope), holding an anchor; (9) Caridad (Queen Charity), holding a heart; (10) Reina Madre, holding basket of fruits; (11) Hagar, mother of Ismael who carries a jug; (12) Queen of Sheba, being cooled with an ostrich feather fan or holding a Bible or a thick book; (13) Reina Justicia, blindfolded and holding the scales of justice; (14) Judith, holding in one hand a bloodied sword and in the other the severed head of Holofernes, and symbolizing triumphant womanhood; (15) Reina Sentenciada, chained to two guards or escorted by two Roman soldiers, representing Judith sentenced for killing Holofernes and convicted innocents; (16) Esther, carrying a sceptre; (17) Ruth, carrying rice stalks symbolizing fidelity; (18) Rebecca, carrying a cup or glass of wine symbolizing humility in service; (19) Deborah, carrying a crown and sceptre symbolizing obedience to the Lord; (20) La Samaritana, representing the outcast who reformed after encountering the Christ and carrying a jar or pail of water; (21) Veronica, holding a veil with three imprints of Christ’s face; (22) Maria Salome, carrying an incense burner; (23) Maria Magdalena, carrying a big perfume bottle; (24) the women of Jerusalem, actually the choir; (25) Reina Elena (Empress Helena), carrying a small cross; (26) Constantino, escorting Empress Helena with small sword hanging from his waist; (27) San Macario; (28) representations of the passion and death of Jesus, first of which is a sagala with three dice on a plate; (29) sagala with 30 pieces of silver (supot ni Hudas); (30) sagala with rooster (manok ni San Pedro); (31) sagala with spear; (32) sagala with nails (tatlong pako); (33) sagala with the label “INRI”; (34) sagala with crown of thorns; (35) La Dolorosa, borne on a carroza; (36) a big cross on a caro symbolizing the triumph of the Cross as the instrument of our salvation; (37) the hermana mayor; and (38) another band.
The Intramuros santacruzan was participated in older women, most of whom coming from prominent families. Lito Perez, who owns Camp Suki, took charge of the costumes, carefully following the guidelines but retaining an ornate flair. In late afternoon, the procession went from Fort Santiago to the Manila Cathedral and ending in Casa Manila, across San Agustin Church. The Intramuros santacruzan was not perfect but it gave communities a model on how stage this religious procession, keeping in mind its religious and cultural significance. 


Designer Joyce Peñas Pilarsky as Divina Pastora at the Intramuros santacruzan

 Valerie Bondoc as Reina Elena at Intramuros
Representations of the passion and death of Jesus, carried by sagalas at the Intramuros santacruzan