The quaint religious town of Pateros, Metro Manila
Pateros, Philippines — I spent most of my primary and secondary school education in Comembo, a small barangay that belongs to Makati City’s second district and is part of the Eastside Cluster, along with East Rembo, Pembo (the EMBOs of Makati that are apparently abbreviations for different variations of “enlisted men’s barrio”), and Rizal, which was also formerly a part of Pembo but with a population bigger than other barangays it was made an independent unit by the local government.
Never mind all that, though, because while I can indulge you with many stories about Makati, I am dedicating this piece of writing to its quaint little neighbor; one that I never really had the chance to experience more of until only recently, and that is Pateros.
Let’s start with the San Roque Parish Church in B. Morcilla St., a Roman Catholic church under the order of the Augustinians that was founded after the division of Pateros to Pasig by Fray Andres Vehil. The baroque architecture plan of the structure was created by Fray Santos Gomez Marañon, and houses the Diocesan Shrine of Santa Marta de Pateros—the only major shrine dedicated to Saint Martha in Southeast Asia to date.
The Pamisa de Gracia (or Mass of Grace) opens every town fiesta for the honor of Sta. Marta, who was said to ward off a giant crocodile that attacked the villagers’ ducks, thus saving the duck egg industry. The Pamisa is done to give thanks for the saint’s holy intercession.
The family who wish to organize one borrows the icons of Sta. Marta, San Roque and San Isidro Labrador from the houses of their respective caretakers.
A sunduan (“fetching”) procession for the images begins on a Friday at the house of the caretaker of San Isidro Labrador. A brass band accompanies the image and procession, which proceeds to collect the image of San Roque, before fetching Sta. Marta’s icon. The day after that, Saturday, involves the host family conducting a prayer vigil at their house.
On Sunday, the host family removes the three icons from their house, and in a second procession brings them to the San Roque Parish for the actual thanksgiving mass. A third procession after the mass takes the images back to the house of host family, who then return each icon to the houses of its caretakers.
The Pateros town fiesta is an event to itself, and is inarguably an important cultural tradition observed by the people and the faithful of the town. Traditionally celebrated on every second Sunday of February, the festivity is marked by people playing games at the feria, watching roving bands of musicians and participating in church-led activities and religious processions.
The street leading to the church is almost always crowded with peddlers, duck raisers, and alfombra/abolorio sellers. Sold side by side with suman wrapped in leaves are folksy clay pots and red prayer candles, as well as all sorts of tiange items.
There’s also the street fandango, wherein the image of Sta. Marta is carried outside the church by a group of fandango-dancing strong men for Pandangguhan sa Kalye. During this procession, people throw to each other gifts of fruits and food items like boiled eggs, balut, itlog na maalat, and various kinds of native delicacies—known as the pasubo tradition.
Speaking of balut, in a bid to revive their title as the Balut Capital of the country, Pateros has partnered with the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) to help strengthen their promotion of balut as one of the Philippines’ official culinary tourism products.
During the Balut sa Puti Festival held in the latter part of March this year, the municipality gave spotlight to the exquisite dishes that could be cooked using duck eggs and its meat, such as “pickled itik” and “afritadang balut“.
This Holy Week, the town also celebrated the Senakulo sa Daan, a religious and dramatic presentation depicting the suffering of Christ and the reenactment of His struggles in Golgotha and outside the gates of Jerusalem. This tradition was revived after fifteen years in hiatus through the efforts of the Knights of Columbus-Pateros Chapter.
I guess it’s nice that in these days of urbanization, Pateros reminds us to take a look back to the age-old traditions that shaped our modern society.
So, did I regret not exploring this curious little town I was younger? I didn’t; because ultimately, I met a guy who made me experience my first fiesta, made me taste my first bonete and balut, and took me to witness my first pasubo. For that, I am grateful.