My uncle (although I find it weird to be calling him my uncle because our age gap is not too far off) has asked us to support him as he is one of this year's Hermano Mayores of their Parish's annual Sto. Nino Fiesta (San Miguel Parish in Marilao). I thought this will just be a typical "pagsasanto" day...help out decorate the carroza, help out dress the image...then during the procession walk alongside the carroza with a candle on hand...take pictures...wait knowing me, take lots and lots of pictures...then blog about it when I get home but little did I know that I am about to embark in one of the craziest experience I ever had in relation to this hobby and devotion of mine.
I remember having a conversation with my uncle and my Tita (another relative) about Beto, we were bound for Malolos that time to buy moss or "lumot" which I needed for a wedding I am decorating. My uncle mentioned that he had his Sto. Nino and our family's image of Virgen Alegria re-worked by none other than Beto, as preparation for his being one of the Hermano Mayores this year. For those who do not know Beto, he is a master sculptor/painter known for making images look lifelike, with eyes filled with emotions ("mga nangungusap na mata"). The downside with him is his apparent lack of professionalism in completing the work entrusted to him. I for one admire his work however I frown upon his attitude towards work. Even if he is the most sought after image maker in town, with his temperament and with his outlook on customer service, I will always think twice before getting his services or be stressed dealing with him. I have heard a lot of bad stories about him in Flickr, of course even good ones but the bad stories have left an impression in me that he is someone who can never be trusted, someone who does not keep his word. I do not have a personal experience working with him though. Nonetheless, I shared with them the stories I have read in Flickr. I shared the warnings, "the horror stories" and the tips to getting on Beto's good side by giving him gifts or giving him a fake deadline. I do not know if he did ever learn from all the complaints against him or the legal actions that were filed against him- although I do not know also if any of these progressed.
D-day, the Sto. Nino Fiesta
What do you know? True to the stories I have read in Flickr, he did the same thing to my uncle. The image is not yet ready on procession day! They have agreed that the image will be ready a day before the procession, that was Saturday. Come Saturday he was told that the image will be ready 2 pm Sunday...the procession is at 7 pm. This would be now my first hand experience of Beto's disregard for meeting deadlines and an addition to the horror stories about working with him. Well at least there is still a chance for the image to join in the procession...imagine, you already have a carroza, fully decorated and lighted...no image on top because the person who you trusted to take care of it did not do his part! And to think the image was brought to him way back in September.
But I should also thank him because his negligence was able to give way to one of my most unforgettable "pagsasanto" adventures.
It was almost 4:00 pm when the carroza was finished, less than 3 hours left before the start of the procession, and no image yet. We still need to fetch the image from Beto's workshop, to travel from Marilao to Navotas-Malabon area. My uncle was highly optimistic it can be done, I on the other had was clueless, I was just in for the adventure and for moral support.
If you look at the map, well, it appears as if Marilao is just a stone's throw away...well it maybe is, but today is no ordinary day...today is the nationwide celebration in honor of the Sto. Nino, a unique feast for the Philippine nation in commemoration of the role the Sto. Nino played in the conversion of the country hundreds of years ago. And being a fiesta, it appears every main road we go to is taken over by the child Jesus. I think if there is a fiesta procession that can rival Quiapo's Nazareno procession, it will be a procession for the Sto. Nino...the only difference is, the Sto. Nino devotion is not centralized to one location like Quiapo...it is celebrated from Luzon to Mindanao (although a trend right now is to bring the Nazareno procession to parishes like what our new parish priest here in antipolo initiated this year...anyway I digress)
Stage 1: Face the Nino's
Just a few minutes when we started our trip, we already met a procession.
We had to enter residencial areas, minor roads and avoid anywhere there will be huge greetings of "Viva Sto. Nino" for it is a hint that a procession may be underway. The traffic of course was bad, a lot of re-routing...we even had to retrace our steps a few times, whenever we feel we are going to be stuck in traffic or be in the middle of a procession.
Fortunately after an hour of avoiding traffic, we reached Malabon. And this is where our luck ran out. The cars are now at a stand still. Good thing my Tita grew up in Malabon and she was quick to point out that if we cross the river, it will get us to Navotas in less than 5 minutes. But how?
Stage 2: Crossing Navotas River
In Navotas River (not sure though if this is really Navotas River separating Malabon and Navotas, I checked my ever reliable google and from Wikipedia this is what I found, "It is bordered on the north by Obando, Bulacan along Sukol Creek; on the south by the city of Manila; on the east by Daang Binuangan River, Bangkulasi Channel, Malabon Channel and Estero de Maypajo; and on the west by Manila Bay." Not much help though...anyway for the purposes of my story let us just say I am right, I hope to be right...ok so going back...
Okay, let's do this again...In Navotas River, there is a boat-transport system which ferries passengers across the narrow river. The fare is just Phy 4.00 per person, but of course do not expect you'll be riding a gondola with a singing boat man...
Stage 3: The "Eskinita" before San Roque
Crossing the river was a thrilling experience. I was carrying a huge back pack because I brought with me my laptop thinking I could blog along the way (I should know better). I felt like I was one of those well traveled hosts of "Lonely Planet." This is turning to be such a great adventure not just one stressful trip to get the image. Although I have to say that I am not too eager to look down because of the murky, grayish black water of the river...and the seemingly 5-inches of gap remaining before the water can easily flow in the boat. Heaven forbid...good thing it was just a short trip, no waves just the boat gliding through the calm waters...
Upon reaching the other side of the river, our next ride was a tricycle looking vehicle but instead of a motorcycle, you have a bicycle with huge wheels attached. My Tita said that the huge wheels are an adaptation to the constant flooding that has plagued the area for years. From "Lonely Planet", this has now turned into the "Amazing Race."
Before reaching a canopy of banderitas, celebrating San Roque (hey I think this is where the San Roque image used last GMP came from) our transport stopped and we had to enter an alley way, easy to miss when you are driving I assume, going to the workshop of Beto. At last we arrived!!! We knocked, called out and to our surprise...no answer! My uncle started calling someone using his mobile...it was a very tense moment...I peeped into the darkness inside...nothing...no answer...After all the trouble...this is how it ends?
No...suddenly someone came to us, told us that he is coming (My uncle later told me that he was the son of Beto). A few minutes passed, a limping man came with an arm crutch supporting each step...and so I met Beto for the first time, now I can associate the name name to his face. For those who do not know him, I am posting a portrait-shot of him, took me a lot of shots before I was able to capture this...
He opened the door of his workshop and the first I noticed is the smell of dogs coming from his pets tied near the doorway. I love dogs I am not just a fan of their smell. But neither the smell nor the worries felt a few minutes ago matters now...being a santo enthusiast that I am...all the worries in the world vanished temporarily upon entering his workshop...Who am I? Where am I?
The first image that caught my eye is this beautiful angel from Sta. Maria, Bulacan. I was trying to buy it but it is not for sale of course, apparently it has been sitting in his shop for 3 years...darn, I'd be crying if I were the owner of that image...it is sooo adorable I don't want it out my sight...
His workshop is quite small, and the walls are covered with cabinets full of finished and unfinished images, mostly heads; I could just imagine how beautiful these will all look like...if finished!
Fresh from GMP, I remember this image of Blessed Pope John Paul II (this I think would be the first that he was not able to do justice to his body of work, it doesn't look like the beloved pope) from GMP. He said this was commissioned by "Don Allan Tengco." I guess this was returned to him so he can still redeem himself and do his magic! Bottom-right, speaking of GMP, in 2013 we saw Our Lady of China, why not Our Lady of Vietnam in 2014?
Next, he showed us the unfinished head or our Virgen Alegria. I am excited how it will turn out...yet afraid if it will be ready in time for the Salubong procession (will there be another trip like this soon?)
The reason for our trip, my uncle's Sto. Nino:
Upon seeing the image though, I was less than impressed...He said that the image should be returned back to him after the procession. Well I thought he barely touched it but my uncle pointed out that the eyes are now different, aside from the "ojos de europa."
The Reason why Beto, Sto. Nino de Pasion or del Passion
Initially, I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to be stressed working with him given his not so good track record...but seeing his finished work up close, for the first time, this kind of image I guess makes you forget all the troubles and still make you believe you made the right choice...
He said that this was supposed to be his, a Sto. Nino of his own, but someone already bought it (I wonder who and for how much that he decided to let it go...)
Just take a look at this work...breath taking! The eyes, the eyes say everything...it does not need to be clothed in expensive garments or metal works...it is already a stand-out just the way it is...
With still an hour left, time to go home...and fast...
My Tito and Tita posing with the Sto. Nino
A rusty vessel bearing Manila. My Tita said that one of the livelihoods in the area is "Pangagalawang" which is fixing up old boats and re-painting it
Crossing the river again, surprisingly the trip back costs Php 3.00, a peso cheaper...
Along the way we passed by an Aglipay church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and I just had to make a quick stop over...
A few blocks away is the Catholic Immaculada, the shrine of the canonically crowned Immaculate Conception of Malabon, but time is running out...
More Santo Nino processions along the way made us worry if we are going to be able to reach Marilao in time for the procession. Unfortunately, there's no other way but this one so we had to wait. Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Malabon, according to my uncle last time he went here, he saw a tarpaulin banner petitioning the canonical coronation of their patron image.
And if the worrying is not enough for the minutes lost in the traffic, with 30 minutes left another, we encounter another traffic build up...why do all the unexpected things happen when you are in a rush...for some reason an electric cable fell, causing massive black-out in the area of Polo and Meralco is fixing it. Thus, they had to make a two-way road one way in the meantime...
Made it just in time!
Upon arrival in Marilao, the image was dressed, with four people taking turns putting one clothing item over another...the image was dressed unceremoniously given the time. Afterwards, the image was carried to the carroza, secured and pulled towards the church...bam...bam...bam...Made it!
View the Procession, San Miguel Parish, Marilao, Sto. Nino Procession 2014