Marinduque – the lenten capital of the Philippines is renowned for a weeklong celebration of the Holy Week with its unique rites and rituals dotting the beautiful island province. Mogpog, the town where the festival started, holds the skilled Morion mask makers and, I think, has the most traditional and solemn way of observing the festive occasion.
Now, what do I understand with the Moriones Festival before my intended visit?
Growing up in another lenten “Mecca” in the Philippines, Province of Pampanga, where the gory tradition of flagellating wounded backs and carrying cross dot the streets, seeing Moriones Festival from the news and digital media seems to be a colorful and festive occasion. At first thought, it was a grand fashion event depicting Roman soldiers with varying degrees of creativity. It was also a big question for me why Marinduque is the Lenten Capital of the Philippines, where Pampanga has the intense and bloody ways of celebrating it, attracting local and international media to capture the crucifixion of penitents in different sites.
What have I learned about the Moriones Festival?
Upon arriving in the capital town of Boac of dreary long night commute, loud music of marching band wakened me from a slumber. Jumping out of the bed and snatching my camera, I hurried on a semi-crowded street looking for the source of the music. After a few turns within the tight labyrinth of roads, there I saw the first time in my life, the masked men parading the streets depicting the Roman soldiers during the time of Christ. First few seconds, I felt a bit fearful because of the comical frozen angry expressions with seemingly stares from my angle. There were two files and hurried in the middle to have a good angle of the Morions. After the parade, I let the “autopilot” in me ply the town of Boac. What I saw are more Morion penitents scattered with amazingly and strikingly beautiful details adorning their suits. Initially, called them costumes, but later changed my mind about it.
Among many non-locals, such rite is quite outrageous and bizarre when the Lenten season centers on the passion of Christ. Why would these men and women, young and aged, would don such suit and parade on the streets for a show? There comes the unproven story of the Roman Soldier, Longinus, who was allegedly the first Christian after the death of Christ. He was one-eye blinded and miraculously healed after he speared Christ on the cross and blood flowed onto his eyes. Longinus is able to the power of the Messiah and starting to share the word. Since he was a high ranking official in the Roman army, the Roman government would want him silent about it, until such time, Longinus is beheaded of the spreading the good news. This story is where the festival anchors on.
Speaking with Sir Mel Manalili, of Legion of the Marinduque Morions, one of the three Morion groups in Boac, he explained to us what Moriones Festival is about. Aside from the story of Longinus, being a Morion penitent is like almost a year-round task. The activity of their group does not start and end during the Holy Week but throughout the year. They have values formation and civic activities that they hold in identified barangays that are really in need. Their group already holds a coastal cleanup and activities during the opening of classes. The Legion of the Marinduque Moriones will be celebrating its first decade of existence this 2018. There are no special events for the group yet, however, they are looking into adding more youngsters into the group.
What to expect while observing the Moriones Festival?
- Please note that all the six municipalities of Marinduque have their observations and Lenten rites. Before arriving on the island, you can check their schedules by searching online. From our experience, we checked on the schedule of events posted in Boac. There are many pages on Facebook you can check on.
- There are morions parading throughout the street, and they are ready a picture pose.
- The crowd starts to grow during Maundy Thursday and will peak on Good Friday during the Via Crucis.
- Local restaurants and eateries close at around 9:00PM or later depending on customers. Usually, they close at around 5:00PM on ordinary days.
- There are bazaars or trade fairs in each towns showcasing their local delicacies and many souvenir items.
- There is a food park in Boac that is near the Senakulo stage.
What other activities we did during the Good Friday?
In Mogpog, after marveling at the traditional Morion parade and having a short discussion with the Municipal Mayor and other councilors, we headed to Barangay Janagdong to meet one of the famous morion masks maker, Sir Dick Malapote. Upon arriving in front of their house, unfortunately, he was still in town. We were able, though, to see the unfinished mask. We are also able to try the suit that morion penitents wear.
In Boac, we observed the Via Crucis around lunchtime, found our way to squeeze ourselves through the crowd and we are able to join our media friends and able to have access to the stage area. Shout to Elpi (@egguillermo) and Vin of Manila Bulletin (@kevintristan.espiritu).
In Gasan, we witnessed the Good Friday parade at sunset. We saw the flagellants, the Pupua penitents and a huge crowd.
How to go in Marinduque?
The main entry port is via Dalahican (Lucena)-Balanacan (Mogpog) port:
If you are traveling in the peak days, it is recommended to have an early reservation of the bus through Biyaheroes website. One way bus ticket costs Php830.00 (as of writing), not inclusive of other charges. The fare is inclusive of the RORO fare. Once at the port area, the bus conductor will signal passengers to alight and prepare for the RORO ride. You have the option to stay on the bus if you wish to travel in the RORO with a lesser crowd. Once in Balanacan port, tell the bus conductor where you will alight. In my case, we left the Kamias-QC terminal at around 5:00 PM and arrived in Boac town past 3:00 AM the following day. You might as well arrange your arrival with your accommodation. The straight bus trip from JAC Liner is recommended for travelers who avoid hassles during transfers or families traveling with seniors.
The majority of the locals take the cutting trip. They will commute to Dalahican Port in Lucena City and take another queue to the RORO. Upon arriving in Balanacan port, there are vans and jeepney waiting at the port going to each town, even during the wee hours of the night.
Another possible entry is through the Gasan Airport where Cebu Pacific Air has Manila-Marinduque Direct Flights starting April 2, 2019.
Where did we sleep?
We chose Lucky 7 Pension House in Boac because of its strategic location. Right beside Puregold Boac and the market area. Accommodations in Boac sells faster than pancakes and it is advisable to make months in advance on reservation.
You can contact Mam Betty at 0910 822 2973. Please say Hi to her from Jan of Pampanga.
For Php1,300 room per night, here’s what we had: (price may change without prior notice)
Improvements needed on their Wifi connection, though.
My favorite restaurant in Boac:
Cafe Ma’Mita Restaurant – located beside Boac Cathedral and Boac Hotel, they are my go-to breakfast and lunch restaurant. Their accommodating and fun is an added bonus in the experience. The restaurant has good wifi connection too.
My favorites are their ‘silogs and the Crispy Manakla.
Marinduque has awesome places to visit too!
The heart-shaped island has lots to feature. There is long white sand in Poctoy, the town of Torrijos. It boasts a long white sand beach and with beachfront accommodations. We ate at Mang Ben’s while in Poctoy. Love their fresh Fried Calamares and Pancit. Shout out to Sir Jessie for hosting our lunch, our heartfelt thanks.
How to go to Poctoy Beach: From Boac Jeep Terminal, we took Sta. Cruz bound jeep (about 1.5 hours travel time). Then from Sta. Cruz, take Torrijos bound jeep. Advise the driver that you will alight in Poctoy (about 1-hour travel).
Tres Reyes Island – these islands feature rocky coastline and with limited beach/swimming area. However, despite its limited swimming area, the islands are surrounded with clear waters perfect for snorkeling. Be mindful of the strong sea currents to avoid drifting.
From Boac, take Buenavista bound jeep and advise the driver that you will alight at the Gasan port.
Luzon Datum, the Geodetic Center of the Philippines is found near Balanacan, Mogpog. From Boac, take a jeepney bound for Balanacan port. Advise the driver you will go to Luzon Datum and they will alight you to the junction leading there. From the junction there, are habal habal drivers ready to bring you there. As of writing, the road near the structure is undergoing construction, hence, the need to charter habal habal or bring your own SUVs that can survive the steep and winding road once near Luzon Datum.