June is almost over, and I suddenly realize that May came and went and I never saw a Santacruzan.
I am not talking about the professionally produced, million-peso-budget kind. I mean the little procession that snarls traffic as it meanders along narrow streets while its participants walk under banderitas that crisscross overhead.
I’m talking about the kind of Santacruzan I used to see and sometimes follow as a little girl. They took forever. Intricate arches loomed above the reina and her consorte; people lined up on both sides holding candles, their voices raised in song, stumbling over the lyrics of “Dios Te Salve Maria” in Spanish.
At times the pronunciation was so bad it sounded irreverent, which led an old uncle to say, “No one will understand them, even in heaven.” But it was fervent and came from their hearts.
The slow-moving prosesyon finally ended at the house of the hermana mayor, where there was food and the traditional pabitin.
There was always a mad scramble for the role of Reina Elena. I remember parents investing all their savings just to make their daughters shine for that one night.
The Santacruzan grew glamorous and more expensive each year. It soon became a beauty contest. Politicians stepped in and took over. Money ruled. There went tradition. The innocence and charm of the little town May fiesta was lost.
They tell me it is still like in the old days in the remote barrios. Wonderful. Maybe next year.
“Araw ng Maynila” was celebrated last Tuesday. It was in 1962 when the late Manila Mayor Herminio Astorga chose June 24 as Manila Day, to commemorate the first city council established in Intramuros by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1571.
I remember Astorga. We called him Togay. Quiet, serious, unassuming, and kind. Even when he was the top honcho of the capital, he didn’t strut about like a big shot.
I met him when he was the starting center of “Murder Inc.,” the Letran NCAA champion basketball team in 1950. He was a dependable and solid player.
That was a formidable team. They had Mumar the fox, sly, sneaky and wise. Chemari Iglesias was the pretty boy. But the man with the moves and the jump shot was mine. He wore a number 5 on his blue-and-red jersey. Ah, memories.
Manila Day falls on the same day as the fiesta of San Juan when people douse and get doused with hopefully clean water to mark the feast of St. John the Baptist. I have seen tempers flare during these celebrations. But most of the time, people take it all in good humor.
I grew up in Sampaloc. The big celebration was in December in honor of Nuestra Señora de Loreto. There was always a procession. My aunt’s Santo Niño was the star of the show. His andas, borrowed from the Roa family across the street, was bedecked with ribbons, flowers, lights and strands of sampaguita. The other statues were huge. Ours was just over a foot tall. A 12-piece marching band followed him. They played “Glowworm.” Don’t ask me why.
After the procession, it was open house up and down Legarda Street. I was only eight when I had my first taste of draft beer from a barrel in a neighbor’s zaguan. Ice cold. Delicious. I still like it!
Manila was once the Pearl of the Orient. I am fortunate to remember her that way. Today she is a far cry from what she used to be. Legarda is an eyesore, the picture of decay and neglect. What a shame. I hear there are plans to restore Manila to her old glory. I wonder.
At a recent dinner the conversation jumped from gossip, to politicians, to wellness. Someone raved about the Cohen diet. Another promoted zumba. There were gasps over the latest affair and loud guffaws when a lady helped herself to a slab of chocolate cake—and then asked for Splenda for her coffee.
But no matter how juicy the chatter was, it kept going back to politics and pork.
Just when I thought I was too old to care, I find there is still something in me that cries in protest, cringes in shame, and wishes this were not happening at all. I am passionate about integrity and I applaud the firm stand taken, despite criticism, to see that justice is served. But wish ko lang.
This scenario was inevitable. It is what happens when we, the people, look the other way. We have done that for far too long.
The nation is enraged, embarrassed by the images on the screen. The headlines are pathetic. But at long last the wheels of justice are starting to grind. It is about time! But no one has the right to gloat.
I hope today is just a prelude, our first big step on the straight and narrow path; maybe even the beginning of the end for corruption. You think?
In the middle of all of the ugliness, I catch a glimpse of a tired old man tenderly holding a child on his lap. And my heart falls apart.
Sadly I remember an old quatrain we learned in school: