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Virgin of Balintawak

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Looking Back

Virgin of Balintawak

Balintawak to a 21st-century Pinoy is a part of Quezon City marked by an LRT station, or the entry point or first stop in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx). Balintawak can also refer to a single-stick fighting style of Philippine martial arts (eskrima or arnis), as well as the colorful rural costume worn by the smiling dalaga that fill the sun-lit canvases of Fernando Amorsolo. We also see the Balintawak on women doing the tinikling.

Unlike the one-piece modern terno with the signature “butterfly sleeves,” the Balintawak has four basic components: the baro (blouse), the saya (skirt), the tapis (cloth wrapped around the skirt), and the pañuelo. Compared to the formal traje de mestiza with a longer skirt and a train, the Balintawak is informal with a shorter skirt for use in the fields. The pañuelo in a Balintawak, often used as a scarf on the head or a shawl over the shoulders, is simply folded and left to hang on one shoulder, ready for use on a sweaty brow. Used in this way, the pañuelo is often referred to today as an alampay, like that conspicuously worn by Imelda Marcos and Risa Hontiveros.

Historically, Balintawak was where the Philippine Revolution of 1896 was launched when Andres Bonifacio tore up his cedula and shouted words of defiance, including, I believe, a cuss word that begins with “p.” Balintawak was home to Melchora Aquino, whose 200th birthday was celebrated early in the year. Better known as (ma)Tandang Sora, she is sometimes referred to as the Mother of Balintawak.

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Browsing on the Net for images of the Virgin of Balintawak venerated by the Philippine Independent Church, I came across an English translation of Gregorio Aglipay’s Novenario or Novena of 1925 that was supposed to mark nine days in August to commemorate the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution (traditionally known as the “Cry of Balintawak” until it was officially changed into the Battle of Pugadlawin).

The novena or “Pagsisiyam ng Birhen sa Balintawak” made reference to a dream that saved Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, Gregoria de Jesus and other Katipuneros from capture by the Spanish Guardia Civil. The original source, that I have yet to trace, is an article that appeared in the prewar newspaper La Vanguardia. What appeared in the novena reads:

“When he was still living, the journalist Aurelio Tolentino used to say that one night when Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto and other comrades were sleeping in the house of [Tandang Sora] in Balintawak, one of them saw in a dream a beautiful Mother dressed in the style of the farmers of Balintawak, leading a pretty child by the hand, dressed like a farmer with short red pants and holding a shiny bolo, crying Liberty! Liberty! [Kalayaan!]

“The beautiful woman approached the one dreaming and said to him, ‘Be careful.’

“When the dreamer woke, he told his comrades what he had dreamed, saying that the Mother and Child had the face of Europeans though dressed like Filipinos.

“Because of this, they did not follow their plan to return to Manila for their regular work but decided to wait in Balintawak awhile. It was not long before news came that the Guardia Civil Veterana had raided the press of the Diario de Manila and captured a number of Katipuneros and their papers.

“Because of this dream, Aurelio Tolentino adds, ‘the first soldiers of the Katipunan wore red trousers.’

“But for this dream, Andres Bonifacio and his staff would have been captured and we would still not be free even now.

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“The Mother of Balintawak, says Mons. Aglipay, ‘reminds you constantly of your sacred and inescapable duty to make every effort possible to obtain our longed-for independence; and she is the sacred image of our Country.’ The voice of the people will constantly resound from our pulpits, reminding you of the great teachings of Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio and other Filipinos, and these teachings of our greatest compatriots will form the special seal of our National Church.”

Elsewhere in the novena, Obispo Maximo Aglipay stated: “The Mother of Balintawak symbolizes our Country, and the Katipunan child expresses the Filipino people, the rising generation which longs for independence, and both figures consistently reminds us of the tremendous sacrifices of the liberators of our Country and of our sacred and inescapable duty to follow them, also making all possible sacrifices on our own part to achieve our independence.”

And again Aglipay wrote: “In this image of the Motherland, we symbolize all our natural drive for national independence. The Virgin-Mother is the Country, for the Country is the only mother that can truly be called Virgin, Virgin as it is of all lust. The Katipunero child represents the People, eager for their liberty, and their spokesmen, prophets and evangelists are the great Filipino teachers: Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio, and our other countrymen whose modern sapient teachings will form the best national Gospel.”

Historians Reynaldo C. Ileto and Francis Gealogo have published articles on the Virgin of Balintawak and the Santo Niño brandishing a bolo that should be better known outside the Iglesia Filipina Independiente because it is part of Philippine history and a reflection of how an imported foreign faith is taken and Filipinized until it becomes unmistakably our own, like the Catholic Birheng Barangay.

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