Penitensiya – Flagellation in San Juan de Mata, Tarlac
Flagellation is a common practice by some Filipinos during Lenten season. It is a way of showing penance for sins or to affirm their “panata“ with God. Panata is a pledge made with God in exchange of an answered prayer that has usually something to do with recovery from a terminal sickness or overcoming a life and death situation. Some do it solo while some do it in a group.
Flagellation is done by repeatedly beating oneself with a whip. Bear in mind that flagellation is a voluntary act. It is done by a person for reason of faith and no one forces him or her to do it. Some flagellants even have their backs wounded with a sharp blade before they whip themselves. Blood comes gushing out their wounds as the whip strikes their back. Others do it by carrying a heavy cross while some crawl on the floor until they reach the altar of a chapel. Flagellants do this while roaming around on their bare feet under the high heat of the sun to go to nearby chapels who are having their Pabasa.
Pabasa is chanting Jesus Christ’s journey to cross. This is usually done in a 24/7 basis where the people doing the Pabasa have their own shift so that there will always be one or two people reading about Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Pabasa is held on a local barangay chapel or in someone’s home.
When a flagellant goes inside the chapel, he or she spends a few minutes to pray and to get whipped on the rear while lying on his or her front with arms spread imitating the figure of the cross. Thick banana stalk or the flagellant’s whip is used to spank the praying flagellant. This is done in every Pabasa that the flagellant goes.
I have been in several places during Lenten season but I can say that flagellation is mostly practiced in Central Luzon specifically in the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac. I grew in Tarlac and I have been a witness to many flagellation activities in my entire life but this is the only time I ask why they are doing it. It is apparently painful and sometimes it poses certain health risks. I guess it is faith. Strong faith.