Filipinos seek millennium light on mountain

Reuters/March 31, 1999
By Abe De Ramos

Mount Banahaw, Philippines -- Francisco dela Rosa has seen God twice.

"He is a big man in a white robe, with white beard...and a glowing face," says dela Rosa as he sits at the foot of a cross on a reputedly sacred spot on the Philippine mountain of Banahaw.

"All the chaos that we see, all the crime, the fighting, the El Nino, these are signs that the day of judgment is near," adds the one-armed lottery ticket vendor.

Dela Rosa, 60, is one of thousands of pilgrims who have begun flocking to the 2,250-metre (7,380-foot) Mount Banahaw as Asia's only Roman Catholic country prepares to mark Jesus Christ's crucifixion 2,000 years ago.

Most Filipinos will spend the Holy Week visiting churches. Hundreds will flog themselves with glass-encrusted whips until they bleed.

A dozen or so zealots will get themselves nailed to wooden crosses to atone for their sins.

Dela Rosa will simply seek solace on the mountain against cataclysms he fears will engulf the world in the new millennium.

Three hours by car from Manila, Banahaw gained its mystic reputation from 19th century tales about "a sacred voice" that spoke to those who had gone there to seek talismans or pursue pagan beliefs which Spanish colonisers had tried to suppress.

At least 120 Christian-based sects have shot up since then to worship the mountain. To them, the new millennium will bring either Armageddon or unprecedented prosperity to the Philippines.

About 300,000 pilgrims and tourists are expected to trek up the mountain this Lent.

Earthquakes, Wars At Hand

"We must all prepare for it (the millennium)," says white-haired Isabel Suarez, who leads a sect called Mistica.

Called Suprema by her 50,000 followers, Suarez says the end will come through earthquakes, wars and famines.

"Aside from prayers, we must prepare for our daily, practical needs too," she told Reuters from her whitewashed home at the foot of Mount Banahaw where she keeps sacks of milled rice to prepare for the day of reckoning.

Manila businessman Cecilio Saguisag said he came to Banahaw six years ago after the Virgin Mary told him to bathe at a waterfall on the mountain.

Now, he leads a sect which believes only the enlightened will survive the "cleansing."

To survive the temblors and tidal waves, one must give up material desires, Saguisag said.

"Those who will be left are those living right."

It's All In The Navel

Unprecedented prosperity, not doomsday, is what Boy Fajardo, a traditional healer, sees ahead.

The Philippines, he says, will be the centre of global political and economic power because Banahaw has been divinely chosen as the next "navel of spiritual centres in the world."

The world's spiritual navel, according to him, changes every 2,000 years and it is now the Philippines' turn. Four thousand years ago it was Egypt, and then it was Britain.

"Banahaw attracts spirituality. From this navel will emanate power sources," he says.

Fajardo's views find support among members of another sect called Ispiritual Pilipino Catholic Church, who believe the Philippines is the "new Jerusalem."

"Jerusalem was transferred by the angels from the Middle East because there is so much spirituality here and turmoil there," explains sect member Tirso Lontok, who was born on the mountain.

To depict Mount Calvary, sect members have erected three wooden crosses on a hill. To reach the new Calvary, pilgrims follow a trail of "stations" lighting candles and chanting prayers.

Ecological Nightmare

Each Lenten season brings new visitors to the mystic mountain.

Her flock may be growing but Suprema Suarez is not happy.

"Mount Banahaw has been treated with disrespect," she said, referring to rubbish left behind. "This is the reason why the Sacred Voice no longer makes itself heard."

It is man, not God, who will destroy the world, Lontok said.

"The garbage shows what some of us have become. The message of the Sacred Voice is to have a clean self, which translates to a clean environment. So it is man who is ruining the earth."

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