In the present day, the Municipality of Cuenca in Batangas has developed a reputation for being the “Home of the Bakers,” and the town itself has become renowned for its “Tinapay” (Bread) Festival which “puts the spotlight on the hardworking bakers or ‘panaderos’ of the place1.” During the American colonial era, however, the highlight of the annual fiesta or the feast celebrated in honor of the town’s patron saint, was something else altogether.
Back then, the virtual centerpiece of the fiesta on the 15th of May was something called the “Procesion Civica” (Civic Procesion). The Patron Saint of Cuenca, to the present day, is San Isidro Labrador or Saint Isidore the Laborer2. He was a Spanish born “farmworker known for his piety toward the poor and animals3” and is recognized by the Catholic Church as the Patron of Farmers.
The “Procesion Civica,” despite the name, was therefore not really a procession of people but more one of animals, something held to commemorate and honor who and what San Isidro Labrador was. From a 1930 ethnographic paper written by one Petronila C. Marasigan4, we get details of this procession.
The procession was just one of many activities held in anticipation of and during the fiesta itself, which was preceded by a “novenario” or a novena (9-day prayers) attended by the townspeople. It – the procession – was held on the “vispera” or eve of the fiesta.
According to Marsigan, as early as one o’clock, anything from six to ten bands hired by the organizers of the “festejos” (celebrations) “begin to play their melodious pieces.” Two hours later, at three in the afternoon, the “Procesion Civica” commenced.
It started at the “Patio” or the front of the town’s church, and leading it were the “Presidente de Festejos” (President of the Celebrations) as well as the President of an organization of the young men of the town. Marasigan described the procession itself:
“All horses head the way. Then follow the cows in the group; then the carabaos. The carts which are beautifully decorated follow in line two by two. There are people singing in one cart, and on the others, demonstrations are taking place. Indeed, it is very nice to see these things. The people are yelling and shouting to the tune of the music. The carts number in [the] hundreds. Following these carts are the trucks which are representing the different organizations of the town. The lower class of people are the only ones usually going with the procession and the aristocrats [i.e. the town’s well-to-do families] and their visitors just view the parade in their houses. There is a band at the head of the procession, one after the rows of the carabaos; one after the group of cows; one after the carts; one after the trucks; and one at the very last. Two or three bands remain at the “Patio.” Those bands going with the procession are riding in trucks. The Patron Saint, “San Isidro Labrador,” is with the procession at the very last. The procession passes the different important streets and at about six o’clock in the afternoon, it is already ended.”
The celebrations, of course, did not end when the “Procesion Civica” ended in the evening. Later that same night, the hired bands took turns playing at the bandstands in an event called the “Serenata,” which was well attended by the townsfolk as well as visitors.
The day of the fiesta itself was almost something of an anticlimax, albeit this was when houses were opened to all and sundry for food and drinks, a kind of hospitality which Marasigan described as “Every house is an inn.” The festivities culminated with a “dramatic performance hired for the occasion,” a “dance usually held in the town market,” and, as it continues to be done in the present day, a fireworks display.
READ Petronila C. Marasigan’s full ethnographic paper: “Social Activities in Cuenca, Batangas by Petronila C. Marasigan, 1930”
Notes and references:1 “Tinapay Festival: Potential Tourist Attraction in Batangas, Philippines,” by Angelica B. Coliat, Jean Clarisse C. Alday, Marife B. De la Peña, Gellenemarie M. Dyogi, Monalisa M. Jusay, Markglen M. Jusay and Dexter R. Buted, published 2014 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Education, Arts and Sciences.
2 “Cuenca, Batangas,” Wikipedia.
3 “Isidore the Laborer,” Wikipedia.
4 All details of the “Procesion Civica” are obtained from “Social Activities in Cuenca, Batangas,” by Petronila C. Marasigan, 1930, online at the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.