More than 2,000 merrymakers gathered at the streets of Barangay Mabolo in Valenzuela City on Monday, May 12, for the celebration of the 251st Feast of San Roque.
Under the scorching sun, from midmorning to noon, dancersparaded down the streets, a spectacle that included dancers in tribal garb, drummers, Chinese lion dancers, even fire breathers.
Whenever an image of the saint on a float passed by −a man in a friar’s habit, holding a staff in one hand, the other pulling the hem of the habit to reveal a wound on his thigh, a dog at his feet and an angel on one other side −devotees would reach out and wipe it with their handkerchiefs, San Roque being the patron saint of the sick and the invalid.
As San Roque is also the patron saint of those looking for partners in life, groups of young men in the parade would playfully pull a girl from the crowd of watchers and one of them would dance with her. “Isayaw, isayaw,” the young men would chant.
San Roque, or Saint Roch in most European countries, was originally from the province of Montpellier in southern France. Records of the Catholic Church shows he lived from 1295 to 1327.
San Roque was born to a rich family but gave away his wealth to the poor when his parents died. Like the better known Francis of Assisi, he lived among the destitute and the sick and was believed to miraculously cure plague victims.
He later fell ill himself and was forced to retreat into the woods. A dog helped him survive by licking his wounds, which is why San Roque is also recognized as the patron saint of dogs.
Upon his return to Montpellier, his uncle, now the governor, mistook him for a spy and sent him to prison, where he stayed for five years until he died.
Besides France, feasts of San Roque are also held in other Catholic countries, such as Italy, Spain, and the Philippines, often in the middle of August, the saint’s birth month.
However, the feast in Mabolo is held in May, after an event in 1763 during the British Invasion of Manila.
British forces were pursuing then Spanish governor Simon de Anda y Salazar, who was headed to Pampanga. Along the way, the British occupied the Bulacan town of Polo that is the present day Valenzuela City.
The locals fled to the forests while the British made their headquarters in the San Roque Chapel.
“Soon, many of the people fell ill, forcing them to return to the town,” said Jonathan Balsamo, local historian and curator of the Museo Valenzuela. “The people arrived to a town empty of invaders.” It had been a month since they sought refuge in the forest.
The sick went to the chapel and were healed, folk knowledge says.
“They believed it was the miracle of San Roque that healed them, so they took the image around the town in a procession, with everyone dancing and singing,” Balsamo said.
This became the first procession in honor of the saint, which took place on May 12, 1763.
Since then, the thanksgiving dance has been the centerpiece of the festival that covers the first two weeks of the month.
This year’s celebrations started on May 3 with a medical mission in the morning and a beauty pageant among crossdressers in the evening. All events would take place at the Mabolo Covered Court.
The elimination stages of the singing and dance contests and the Battle of the Band occupied May 4 to 8. The singing contest grand finals happened on May 9, while those of the band contest and the dance contests, on May 10 and May 11, respectively.
Also on May 10, pet owners availed their pet cats and dogs of free vaccination from the City Veterinary Office during the annual Ilabas Mo, Pet Mo.
The eve of the feast began on May 11 with an early-morning fun biking at 5:00 am. Young women paraded around the barangay in a sagala in the evening.
The celebrations were organized by the Fiesta Committee of the Sangguniang Barangay of Mabolo led by Punong Baranggay and hermano mayor Joseph William Deato Lee and the Cultural Affairs and Tourism Development Office headed by Ms. Emma Longos.