Two Messiahs

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

IT IS always the case that every time there is a Pacquiao fight, I am on the road for work. In the previous fight against Bradley, I witnessed the stream of people spill out to the streets, their shoulders bended inwards and hunched. It was a sorry sight to see the collective national pride suffer such a fate, with many feeling cheated like so.

In the recent rematch, there were two groups of people that spilled out on the streets. One group streamed out of a municipal gymnasium with bouyant moods as I drove by. I stopped on the curb and asked a boy to confirm, “daog o pilde?” And the boy, replied without hesitation “daog!” The other group filed out of churches with palm fronds equally jubilant. It was Palm Sunday after all, and it was the day when the whole Christendom celebrates the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. I did not ask them whether they also won or not. They always are victorious in the game of eternal salvation or damnation, I thought to myself.

But the serendipitous occasion provided an interesting juxtaposition of two types of messiahs. The first has become the representation of the travails of the individual Filipino brought by destitute conditions to engage in extraordinary struggles of survival. Manny Pacquiao’s personal narrative and his stellar career in the field of boxing jive so well with the stories of so many Filipinos pushed to work abroad away from their families, for instance.


That this struggle is performed on the boxing ring only adds to the drama wherein people see themselves also engaged in a fight versus hard fate. When Pacquiao emerges victorious and earn millions of dollars, they also are lifted up momentarily from the drudgery of daily struggle in these parts to consider the fantasy that they can do it too, alone in the boxing ring or as the case maybe working for a fastfood joint to pay for tuition, also by sheer brawn and all heart.

The second type of messiah emanate from a different kind of social impulse. It responds to an older and perhaps more basic appreciation of our shared fates and struggles. The Christian Catholic belief had always received a bad rap for its emphasis on collective suffering and redemption. From the mark of the original sin, mortal life is seen as the life-long struggle to rid ourselves of that blemish through the Church. But where others see archaic beliefs inappropriate for the modern times.

I see its strengths.

We have seen this collective belief dramatized during Holy Week celebrations in various rituals that depict the final days of the Christian Messiah. We note His triumphant entry during Palm Sunday, lament His betrayal at Gethsemane, and mourn His violent death at the cross as members of a congregation of believers. And we celebrate our collective redemption upon His ascension to heaven on Easter Sunday.

The collective nature of these practices is made obvious through the rituals that Christendom undertakes during these holy days. Buses do not travel, and stores are closed to allow everyone to unite in this frenzy of collective belief. We note Christ’s impending crucifixion by going to various churches for the Visita Iglesia where we are welcomed by religious icons draped in clothes of mourning. We note the 3pm death of Christ and march in a grand funeral procession for the Santo Entierro or the body of Christ lying in state later that evening, the whole townsfolk in participation.

The Easter Mass is the grandest of these rituals where we jubilate over Christ’s ressurection as well as ours, the blemish of the original sin washed off by His blood and sacrifice. It is a religious principle that we remind ourselves of every Sunday in the ritual of the Holy Mass.

Thus, there are two messiahs to consider in this particular Holy Week of 2014. The first, Manny Pacquiao, as the modern day hero of the struggling but autonomous Filipino forced to face squarely the exigencies of fate. The second messiah is borne out of the collective nature of our faith, and fuels the promise for our collective redemption. Both muster extraordinary belief and adulation from the population.

That the two represent significant fragments of the national psyche indicates the schizoprenic disposition of Filipino consciousness – one part individualist and modern, the other part woven into the fabric of collective religious life. It is my take that the sensibilities which these two messiahs represent need not compete. They have much to learn from each other. Taking the two impulses beyond the realm of popular culture promises a far more powerful political potential.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 20, 2014.


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