Looking Back

Land-grabbing in Quiapo

/ 03:29 AM January 08, 2016

Quiapo, like Manila, got its name from a water plant. If May-nila was the place where the “nila” (Ixora manila Blanco) grew in abundance, Quiapo was where the “water cabbage” (Pistia stratiotes) could be found. Not many people know about Quiapo the plant today, because our focus is on Quiapo Church, where one can browse through stalls that happily sell rosaries, novenas and religious medals along with amulets, anting-anting, and assorted herbs for concoctions good and bad.

Quiapo is a place where one sees both the expression of imported Roman Catholicism coexisting with an older pre-Spanish spirituality and belief.


Tomorrow, Jan. 9, crowds of the faithful will swarm the route of the image of the Black Nazarene that will reenact its “translation” or transfer from the ancient Recollect church that once stood in what is now Rizal Park to its present home in Quiapo. According to tradition, the original image was made in Mexico and brought to the Philippines via a Manila galleon in the 17th century. The present image is, in fact, one of two: The first is the image on the altar that does not leave the church; its head is the “original” from the ancient image mounted on a new body of molave, a Philippine hardwood. The second is the processional image that leaves and then returns to the church each year on Jan. 9; the body of this image is the “original” from Mexico while the head is new, fashioned from  batikuling, a soft Philippine wood. These two images, each with a part of the original, made by sculptor Narciso Maglaqui, will preserve the image for future generations.

There is some confusion regarding the image of the Nazareno that was brought to the alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles by the then parish priest of Quiapo, Msgr. Josefino Ramirez. It can’t be the image on the altar that never leaves the church; neither can it be the processional image too big to be brought to Napoles’ home in Makati. Part of the original image—a hand perhaps—was brought to be privately venerated by Napoles, and it was this VIP treatment that supposedly led a sick and desperate Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong to her, seeking a way to touch the robe of the image.


While reading up on the Nazareno in Quiapo, I found out that the image is known by many names: the Spanish “El Nazareno Negro” translates to “Black Nazarene,” and “Nuestro Padre

Jesus Nazareno” to “Our Father Jesus the Nazarene.” The Filipino “Poong itim na Nazareno” was rendered into English by Nick Joaquin as “Dark Lord of Quiapo,” a title that young Filipinos might confuse with villains from the “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” series.

Following footnotes in a couple of publications on Quiapo, I was led to a stray document, deep in the 55-volume compilation of historical texts by James Alexander Robertson and Emma Helen Blair. In Volume 14, covering the years 1605-1609, are documents relating to the Chinese Revolt of 1603, but in the appendix is a little-known petition by a certain Miguel Banal, a descendant of the rulers of pre-Spanish Manila, to the Spanish King Philip III asking for the resolution of his land dispute with the Jesuits. Banal claimed that the Jesuits were grabbing land that was rightfully his.

This engaging document dated July 25, 1609, reads in part:

“Sire. In former years the archbishop of these Philipinas Islands, on petition of the natives of the village of Quiapo, which is near the city of Manila, wrote to your Majesty, informing you that the fathers of the Society of Jesus—under pretext that the former dean of this holy church of Manila, whom your majesty has lately appointed archbishop, had sold them a garden lying back of our village—have been insinuating themselves more and more into our lands and taking more than what was assigned to them by the dean; and that we had scarcely any land remaining in the village for our fields, and even for our houses. The petition begged your royal Majesty to remedy this and protect us under your royal clemency, since we are Indians, who cannot defend ourselves by suits as we are a poor people, and it would be a matter with a religious order.”

Banal recounted how his house in the disputed land was torn down by a Jesuit:

“One of the [Jesuit] fathers, named Brother Nieto came with a numerous following of negroes and Indians, armed with halberds and catans; and of his own accord, and with absolute authority razed my house to the ground. This caused great scandal to those who saw a religious armed for the purpose of destroying the house of a poor Indian—although after seeing his intention to seize all my property and bind me, I did not raise my eyes to behold him angered, because of the respect that I know is due the ministers who teach us the law of God. Although the alcalde mayor of our village … was angry, as was proper … and went immediately on that same day to the destroyed house, and did not leave the village until he knew that another small house had been rebuilt for me in place of the one destroyed, yet, as all the fathers had threatened me that as often as I should build a house there, they would return to raze or burn it … and as I am a poor Indian, I fear the power of said fathers.”


Other documents on the case remain to be unearthed in the Spanish archives, but it only goes to show that agrarian disputes have been at the root of unrest in Philippine history for centuries.

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TAGS: black Nazarene, Janet Lim-Napoles, land-grabbing, MANILA, Philippine history, Quiapo, Roman Catholicism
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