It remains quite the modern-day curiosity how more than a million people would troop to Manila for a chance to catch a glimpse and possibly — hoping against hope — touch the “revered” Black Nazarene figurine. I don’t get it. How is this crowding around a relic different, say, from the 30,000 Filipinos several years ago who trooped to the ULTRA stadium to see an episode of Wowowee live and, later, stampeded all over one another and literally trampled the shit out of 78 such hopefuls?
What is it about Filipinos and clambering all over one another in large numbers? Our most famous seminal events almost always involve crowding. The much-touted 1986 Edsa “revolution” was a crowding exercise as much as its astoundingly embarrassing sequel, the 2000 Edsa “Dos” “revolution” that bumped up to power the much-loved President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Similarly, the most infamous disasters in Filipino history involved crowding too. The worst peacetime maritime disaster in history happened when over-crowded Sulpicio inter-island ships sank and dragged down with them thousands of Filipino souls.
And since time immemorial to today, the infernal traffic jams that have come to characterise the Philippines’ capital city serve as a stark reminder that beyond our enormous numbers, not much else makes Filipinos a remarkable enough people to differentiate from all the rest in an increasingly competitive global economy.
Indeed, one of the biggest issues that defines the Philippines today is — in general — literal macro-level overcrowding. An overcrowding of a land rapidly wasting away right under Filipinos’ feet is the single biggest risk to the health and economic security of future Filipinos — maybe even the region, considering that the Philippines is becoming one big humanitarian disaster just waiting to happen.
The Black Nazarene fiesta and its crowd of millions of people epitomise this fight over small spaces by immense numbers of Filipinos. That it is one of our most cherished traditions says a lot about the character of our people. At least Wowowee promised something to those who died chasing their hopes. The Black Nazarene represents a belief system that promises nothing in life and everything in death.
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