Renato Silvestre, 50, still wishes he could perform the “penitensya” he used to do as his way of atoning for his personal sins and to summon divine help for his family and relatives. The scars on his back, reminders of the self-flagellation he used to perform around this time, are almost gone since he stopped the practice years ago.
Renato said that being a Catholic faithful, the church has long discouraged him from doing this so. But a part of him keeps hoping he could do it again.
“Nami-miss ko rin kasi hinahanap-hanap ko pa rin hanggang ngayon,” Silvestre told Palawan News in an interview.
He recalled how he used to prepare himself for the penitensya every Good Friday – the sweltering heat of the sun, the blade that sliced the flesh on his back where blood would flow freely, the pain and the sacrifice. He still keeps the bamboo stick that he used to beat himself with as a religious discipline, and sleeps with it beside him.
“Tinatago ko iyan sa gamit ko kahit tinatanong ng nanay ko kung bakit tinatago ko pa. Tinatabi ko pa ‘yan sa higaan ko o sa harapan katabi ng Sto. Niño,” Renato said as he reminisced his disciplinary and devotional practice past.
For him, the penitence was part of fulfilling his devotion as a Catholic faithful. By doing it every Holy Week then, he believed he was also doing it for the protection of his family and relatives.
“Kasi gusto ko rin na malayo sa kapahamakan ang pamilya ko, mga pinsan ko, mga pamangkin. Ginagawa ko iyon, kapag dumadapa ako, naiisip ko silang lahat na maliligtas sila sa mga karamdaman. Hindi ako humihingi ng kapalit. Iyong iba nagpapabayad kapag nagpepenitensya, ako hindi. Kusa ko iyang ginagawa. Kapag dumadapa ako, nakikita ko silang lahat na masaya iyon lang ang gusto ko,” he said.
Filipino men roaming the streets to flog themselves to atone for their sins and seek mercy for their families has been a long tradition in the Philippines..
Even crucifixion or the nailing of the hands and feet on wooden crosses is willingly done by some as part of the devotional practice to imitate Jesus Christ’s sufferings before death.
Renato said he was much younger and strong when he used to perform the penitensya along with other men. They would visit each station of the cross within the barangay.
“Kung ilang kubol, iikutin mo ‘yan. Pagdating mo sa isa, dapa. Paghakbang ka nanaman ng ilang oras meron na naman kubol, hihinto ka na naman doon, dadapa ka na naman. Ang panghuli ay sa simbahan na, babasbasan ka ng pari,” he said.
The ritual starts with their fellow devotees marking their backs with cuts, and they begin hitting their them with whips with blades attached at the end, until blood comes out.
“Kawayan na bilog ang ginagamit namin tapos mga tali, tape na binabalunbon sa tali para hindi maghiwa-hiwalay ang stick. May isang dangkal ang haba. Buhay pa nga ‘yon, nandoon pa sa bahay ko, tinabi ko iyon, nandoon sa kama ko,” he said.
Practitioners of penitensya remind themselves constantly to not let the stick fall from their hands to the ground as this is regarded as a curse.
“Sa oras na mahulugan ka noon, parang babalik ka na naman sa dati, balik ka sa number one kapag nahulugan ka ng isang stick. Kapag nahulugan ka sa isang taon ng isang piraso, babalikan mo pa ‘yon, parang sumpa mo iyon,” he said.
Renato also makes sure to always apply oil on his wounds right after the activity to make them heal faster.
He said his devotion brought him joy because he also witnessed changes in himself. Doing it for years made him feel like it was only a sharp squeeze of fingers on his back.
“Kapag ginuguhitan ka ng kasama mo sa likod, nararamdaman mo rin kung paano siya (Jesus Christ) pinahirapan noon,” he said.
After the church told them to stop prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, he no longer joined any self-flagellation activity. The long lay-off has even left no single mark on his back, which proves the time he rested from the activity.
Looking back, Renato said he has no regrets about doing self-flagellation and if he could have his chance again, he will certainly join.
“Kung hindi lang binawal ‘yan, sigurado nandiyan pa ako. Matagal na kasi akong tumigil, wala pang simula ng COVID, pinatigil na ng pari kasi bawal daw ‘yan. Kung meron lang, walang problema sa akin ‘yan, itutuloy-tuloy ko ‘yan. Gusto ko nga taon-taon kaso binabawal na nila. Hangga’t buhay ako, gagamitin ko at gagamitin ko iyan,” he added.
He said that with the current situation, the only way he can do to continue his devotion is through prayers. “Ngayon dasal naman ako,” he said.