Faith and a beauty pageant in the Santacruzan
Every year in May, Filipinos celebrate the Flores de Mayo to honor the Virgin Mary. The month-long celebration culminates in the Santacruzan, a procession that depicts the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena and her son, Constantine the Great.
In a colorful parade, young women accompanied by escorts stand as different characters, including biblical figures like St. Mary Magdalene, St. Veronica, and the Virgin Mary.
History instructor Pat Dacudao of the Ateneo de Manila University explained that the Santacruzan was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish friars to encourage Filipinos to hear mass.
"As part of the Catholic tradition, the Spanish friars in commemoration of this historical event, the finding of the true cross of Christ by Saint Helena, they now celebrate this Santacruzan," said Dacudao in a report on GMA News’ Saksi on May 8.
In the parade, the position of Reyna Helena is the most important, and is often given to the most beautiful girl in the community.
"Na-overwhelm ako kasi ako ‘yung napiling Reyna Elena. Parang naging proud ako sa sarili ko," said Ampi Asio, who is this year's Reyna Elena in Barangay Onse in San Juan City.
While the Santacruzan has religious roots, it has evolved into an eagerly awaited beauty pageant. "Kung ano ‘yung kanilang mga suot, tinitingnan namin kung alin ang pinakamagaganda," said Susan Bautista, a resident of the barangay.
In Araneta Center, the Santacruzan features beauty queens like Gloria Diaz, Shamcey Supsup and Venus Raj. "Nakakatuwa na until now, we're still able to do the tradition," said Supsup in a Balitanghali report on GMA News TV on May 6.
Some groups come up with their own versions of the tradition. In Manila Ocean park, the Santacruzan was held underwater. "It's more fun in the Philippines, so hindi lang naman the traditional na nakikita sa mga barangay. We want our guests to be able to celebrate Flores de Mayo dito sa Manila Ocean Park in a very unique way," senior marketing head Antoinette Gonzales said in a Balitanghali video on May 18.
At the Metropolitan Community Church in Quezon City, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups held their own Santacruzan coinciding with the International Day against Homophobia on May 17.
"Actually, hindi na exclusive ng Roman Catholic Church ang Santacruzan o ang Flores de Mayo. Actually this is a Filipino tradition, at makikita mo rin naman kung bakit ang mga gay people o ang mga transgender gusto nila, kasi they are very spiritual din. At meron din silang devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary... We exist and we have our own spirituality," said Rev. Ceejay Agbayani in a Balitanghali report on May 20.
Whether the Santacruzan is done at a big venue or around a small barangay, the preparation is no joke.
The gowns must be made at least two months before, according to 20-year-old Lizette Aliswag, who has been participating in the Santacruzan for 10 years.
"Siyempre ‘pag nagpapagawa ka ng gown, bukod sa style, ‘yung mga detalye, bawat line, color, kailangan nagma-match sa kulay ng body mo. Bago pa ‘yun kailangan diet mo. Siyempre pagka nakapag-fitting ka na, ‘di ka na puwede tumaba o mag-iiba na naman ‘yung sukat doon. Tapos ‘yung color mo for now, dapat ‘yun na. Huwag ka na masyadong magpaitim o magbilad sa araw. Since summer nga ‘yung natataon itong sagala, kailangan color mo i-watch pa rin," she shared in a report on GMA News TV’s On Call.
According to the report, custom-made gowns can cost from P15,000 to P25,000, while renting a gown can cost from P5,000 to P10,000. For the escorts, a barong Tagalog costs from P800 to P1,000. If the fabric is special, like piña, the cost goes up to P3,000 to P7,000.
Apart from the gown, participants also need to wear crowns. "Hindi ka matatawag na sagala kung wala kang korona," said Reydin Shiarot, owner of Reybelle House of Couture. Crowns cost P800 to P2,500, depending on the size.
Despite the commercial aspect of the Santacruzan, many of those who participate say the focus remains on faith and devotion.
"Ano kasi ako kay Mama Mary kaya gusto ko ganun din maging kagawian ng family namin," said Edith Cruz, who has passed on the crown of Reyna Emperatriz to her 13-year-old daughter Judith.
"As a teenager, magiging good model ako sa kanila na maging mas mataas ‘yung faith nila kay Mama Mary at ‘yung kay God," said Judith in the Saksi report.
According to Norma Gonzalez, who has been Hermana Mayor for over four decades in Barangay Onse, organizing the Santacruzan is her way of giving thanks.
"Panata ko na nagpapasalamat ako sa Diyos, dahil binigyan ako ng anak. At saka maganda ang blessing na ibinibigay sa amin," she said. –KG, GMA News