FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – The Philippine Army grants the soldiers a 2-day holiday break to observe Semana Santa, a military official said
Major Harold Cabunoc, the Army Spokesperson, said that the privilege was granted so that Catholic soldiers are able to practice their religious obligations.
“Every soldier has the freedom to choose a religion, and the Army grants holiday breaks to its soldiers so they can participate in the religious activities their faith requires. Muslim soldiers also enjoy the same privilege during the Ramadan period,”Cabunoc added.
Cabunoc said that the soldiers will be released in two batches.
"The first batch of soldiers will spend their vacation on 5-6 April, while the second batch will enjoy their vacation on 7-8 April," he said.
Being a predominantly Catholic nation, Philippines is known to be one of the countries religiously practicing Semana Santa traditions.
During this time, Catholic soldiers would pack their bags and join their families in reliving the life and sacrifices of Christ on the cross. To non- Catholics, it is also an opportunity to visit loved ones or spending quality time with the family in various holiday destinations.
During the Holy Week, people in the urban areas would usually go home to their provinces and take advantage of the four-day holiday starting from Maundy Thursday up to Easter Sunday.
To the faithful, the holiday is packed with religious activities, self-sacrifices and festivities with the family and community.
In the Army
The Army Chaplain Services spearheads the Lent activities of the entire soldiery. Catholic soldiers religiously observe traditions hemmed in the Lenten Season starting from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.
Station of the Cross is done every Friday of Lent, which is also the day when faithfuls would sustain fasting from meat.
The Chaplains would also offer Kumpisalang Bayan or confessions and Lenten recollection so that soldiers can renew their faith and remember the sacrifices of Christ to wash away our sins.
The Army, through the Chaplains, also sponsors Pabasa which can be joined not only by the soldiers but also by religious organizations and civilian communities.
They also hold masses during the Holy Week starting from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday when they hold the Encuentro (Salubong). The masses are being sponsored by different offices and units at headquarters Philippine Army.
This year, Salubong will hold procession with the Resurrected Christ along Bayani Road from Libingan ng mga Bayani to the Evangelical Chapel with Mother Dolorosa.
The Army works together in full force during the Holy Week. Soldiers are also designated as Watchers and prayer leaders during Vigils, Pabasa and Station of the Cross.
Each unit or office is directed to coordinate with the Chaplain Services for the particular tasks they are to perform in order to ensure that the entire festivity is carried out solemnly and orderly.
The Holy Week observance in the headquarters is also mirrored by the Infantry Divisions stationed in different areas of the country.
In the Philippines
Semana Santa or the Holy Week, Mahal na Araw for most Filipinos, is the week-long commemoration of Christ’s death and his sacrificial journey towards the world’s redemption from its sins.
The ritual starts with Palm Sunday – the Sunday before Easter – where people bring palm fronds (palaspas) to church to be blessed by the priest. People would usually bring home the blessed palaspas believing that it will drive away evil spirits or any bad vibe.
Pabasa, locally known as Pasyon, the Gregorian chanting of Christ’s life, death and resurrection starts on Holy Monday and ends depending on the speed of ‘readers’.
Starting Maundy Thursday, most offices, academes and businesses would take a break commencing the ‘Triduum’.It is the period of three days when the passion, death burial and resurrection of Jesus is contemplated.
Visita Iglesia or ‘Church Visit’ is also done during this day. People would normally visit seven churches representing the Seven Last Words or Siete Palabras or 14 churches as likened to the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Good Friday is underlined with somber street processions and the remembrance of Jesus’ Seven Last Words or Siete Palabras.
Processions are quainter in the provinces. Some towns would perform a ‘Passion’ play called Senakulo. Devotees self-flagellate or even have themselves nailed on the cross. By so doing, they believe that sins will be forgiven and personal prayers granted.
At 3:00 p.m., everyone falls to utter silence contemplating on the death of Christ. Prayers and reflections abound followed by the funeral procession of the deceased Christ. The funeral carriage would be brought around town for veneration
Black Saturday is the spillover of the previous day’s solemnity. Parishes would stage Judas’ suicide for his guilt in betraying Jesus.
Some would find it funny and strange, but in some remote villages, young men would flock to local ‘quack doctor’ and have their rite of passage to ‘manhood’ (circumcision).
Comes Easter Sunday, everybody would join a joyous celebration starting with a dawn mass called the Salubong. People would prepare bountiful food and some would even do the west-influenced Easter egg hunting.
During this time, everything would be for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and his reunion with his mother, Virgin Mary.
Given to all
Semana Santa is indeed long and solemn in the Philippines and even soldiers are privileged to participate in this age old tradition.
The Army recognizes the need of every individual to seek for inner peace through a chosen faith. Just as well, the institution respects the call of all religions for its followers to take part in all its faithful practices.
Above all however, when situation calls, it is their duty to country and countrymen that reins number one.