Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pinagbuhatan-Fiesta ni San Sebastián

Celebrating One of Pasig's Oldest and Most Revered Catholic Tradition


Pagoda San Sebastian by Domingo Bombio
Every year on the 20th of January, the usually monotonous streets of Barangay Pinagbuhatan in the City of Pasig,  converts itself into  a vibrant place of merry making and festivities. The focal point of the almost mardi gras like atmosphere in the barangay is always the parish church.  January 20 is afterall the feast day of its revered patron saint, San Sebastian

Viva San Sebastian!

At the break of dawn of the said day, brass bands parades the streets as if calling the people to start the feastivities. Now and then that heroic sound of  martial music would be broken by the distant sounds of exploding fireworks.

Formal celebration starts with the morning mass officiated by the parish priest. In truth the building excitement would not be found inside the church where mass is being held but instead outside. In the church ground the brewing party heats up. People gathers outside, young and old alike anticipating the start of the street celebration.

When the priest concludes the mass, shouts of "Viva San Sebastian!" would fill the air,  signaling the start of that age old tradition of Pinagbuhatan....the famous "San Sebastian Pagoda"
Pagoda circa 1960's by Domingo Bombio 

The pagoda for what it means now, has become a street celebration honoring San Senastián. It used to be a fluvial parade,(like any other pagodas in the Philippines), the river after all was the source of livelihood and the lifeblood of the barrio for centuries. It is also a way of thanking and blessing. When the Pasig River became polluted and the means of livelihood of the people shifted from river to other means,  the famous pagoda was transfered to the streets. But traces of its fluvial origin is still evident with the "basaan" or  those water games among the people joining or watching the pagoda.

"Basaan sa Pagoda ni San Sebastian 2012"  by Domingo Bombio
The street pagoda "Pinagbuhatan Fiesta" by Domingo Bombio

Each district or "purok" of the barangay assigns groups of  folk dancers in colorful native costumes to represent their area, gaily dancing into the beat of a fandango or a valse provided by their respective hired brass bands. This, plus a number of penitents or "namamanata", dress in native costumes, adds to the vibrant aspects of the fiesta.

Each district has also its own image of the San Sebastián paraded and danced around in the pagoda. But the  attraction as always, is the main image of the said "santo,"  the one that is housed in the church itself. It is where the people and the penitents usually crowds around. It is a belief among the folks of the barrio that this image is miraculous.

There is also this oral tradition, a story that was handed down from generation to generation, that the San Sebastián came or was brought by the Spaniards in this community via river and waterways that traverse the area. Historical facts do lend truth to this tradition.

Pasig's Ancient Town Center

Ca 1595. tagalog nobility from Boxer Codex
According to early chronicles, pre-hispanic Pasig together with the area of Pinagbuhatan used to be part of that 15th century kingdom that stretch from the Pasig River to the historic waterways called "Bitukang Manok" (the present day creek). It was founded and ruled by a princess, Dayang Kalangitan with her consort Rajah Gat Lontok. When the Spaniards entered the mouth of Manila Bay in May 8 1570, arriving in Tondo,  they found the heir of Dayang Kalangitan, Rajah Sulaiman II (Rajah Matanda) and his relatives ruling parts Manila and Tondo.

Towards the end 1570,  the Spaniards under the leadership of Miguel López de Legaspi  started their systematic conquest of Luzon including Manila. True enough in mid 1571, they were advancing toward the Laguna de Bay area.

In Cainta /Taytay the Spaniards encountered stiff resistance from it's Muslim ruler. Commanded by Legazpi's grandson Juan de Salcedo. They fought a bloody war against the men of Cainta led by it's leader Gat Maitan. The latter choosing to fight to the death rather than surrender.

From their base in Cainta the men of Legazpi surveyed the Laguna Bay area and found a tributary (Cainta/Antipolo river) leading to a long waterway called Bitukang Manok. In January 20, 1572, the Spaniards led by Agustinian Father Alonzo de Alvarado and  Juan de la Isla (first encomendero of Pasig) founded a settlement near the banks of the Bitukang Manok and called it " San Sebastián de Pasig". Honoring  the feast day of the said saint.

Tomb of Legaspi at San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila
  Legaspi was born in Zumarraga Gipuzkoa in the Basque region of Spain. Basques are  known devotees of San Sebastián. The capital city of  the Basque region is also called San Sebastián . Every 20th of January they have this wonderful tradtion called Tamborrada, a 24 hour procession of drummers honoring the day.

After the area around the new settlement was surveyed, the Spaniards concluded that it was not ideal as a "cabecera". Concerns were also raised when it was learned that the area of Pinagbuhatan suffers from periodic inundation. Finally in 1573, almost a year after it's founding, the center of the town was transfered to the area called Malinao. It was not only safe from flooding but was also strategically located. (Near Malinao is where the Bitukang Manok leads to the Marikina River, places such as Marikina, San Mateo could be easily accessed from there.)

Pinagbuhatan was then relegated into just another "visita"of Pasig. But through the years people of Pasig would refer the area as "pinagbuhatan ng misa" or "pinagbuhatan ng simbahan", hence Pinagbuhatan got it's name.

"Sa visita muna tayo"

Many stories in a form of oral tradition fills the lore of the patron saint. Perhaps the most touching story about the people's devotion to the San Sebastián was the story of a group of guerilla fighters from Pinagbuhatan returning home after World War II. The guerilla group all belonging to the legendary Agustin Marking's Command, were  disembarking from the military vehicle when they were overheard saying: "Sa visita muna tayo...kung hindi sa kanya marahil patay na tayo".(Let's go to the chapel first...if not for him- San Sebastián-we could have been dead).

A True Identity for Pinagbuhatan

And through the years,  the people of Pinagbuhatan did not lose their identity as devotees of San Sebastián. According to recorded history and common belief,  the fiesta and the pagoda had been celebrated yearly for three centuries now. It is a historical fact,  that it is one of the oldest catholic traditions of Pasig.

Indeed, proudly we can  say: "Founded on the 20th of January, in the year of our Lord 1572, on the feast day of our patron saint,  San Sebastian."                                                                                                                                                                         
                                                         "Viva San Sebastián!"

Painting by Sodoma depicting San Sebastián c. 1525

Visit my blog about the life and times of San Sebastian
Click here:San Sebastian-Sundalo at Martir ng Kristiayanismo




  1. Great article, Francis! Local lore needs a boost! Dapat buhatin ang Pinagbuhatan, --- at si San Sebastian.

  2. Galing!!!!! I'll definitely recomend this to my friends especially the students.:) -Sir Charles Rancudo