Friday, January 19, 2007

Jesus was a Black Man

The Context:

The Black Nazarene is a life-sized, dark-skinned statue of Jesus Christ that was supposedly brought from Mexico to the Philippines in the early 1600’s. The statue is presently enshrined in the Quiapo Church in Manila.

For more than 200 years the Black Nazarene has been placed on a gilded carriage every January and hauled through the streets of Quiapo by male devotees dressed in maroon and gold. People who touch the Nazarene are reported to sometimes be healed of diseases. A number of faithful usually collapse and faint during the ritual, some have died.

Observers throw towels to those guarding the statue in hopes of having them rubbed against the Nazarene and absorbing some of it’s miraculous power, or at least walking away with a good luck charm.

The procession and the accompanying Feast of the Black Nazarene take place every January 9th. It is one of the largest festivals in the Philippines.

Source- Wikipedia

A Personal Account:

*Many of these pictures were taken in low light. Click the images to see larger versions.

Stepping off the subway, I find myself darting through a sea of followers, burgundy and gold flashing in the afternoon sun, bare feet dark from unholy residue. I kept a brisk pace dodging and weaving through streets choked with honking, eccentric jeepneys and idling tricycles buzzing like a menacing swarm of mosquitoes awaiting its victim.

Balls of flame spewed from the mouths of roaming transvestite troupes, holding the crowd in awe for a fleeting moment with brilliant bursts of flaming liquid burning precariously close to the messy jumble of electric wires hanging from above.

The crowd is infinite, endless- a unified mass of individuals filling the narrow streets, alleys, and plazas of Quiapo awaiting a precious few seconds when they will see and maybe even touch the sacred Nazarene.

After weaving my way through the masses, I finally reach my destination- a balcony above the chaos, a vantage point to watch this spectacle, this show of devotion and faith unfold before my eyes.

The never-ending stream of people flowed over the pavement as the sun dipped below the horizon and darkness enveloped the city.

Banners and flags dotted the crowd, clans marching to war, seeking repentance, hoping to experience suffering for a better tomorrow, for good luck, for a miracle. The noise builds to a steady buzz, in the distance there are cheers and yells, lights and towels flying, firecrackers snap and pop.

Enter the ropes- snaking ahead of the main attraction like the tentacles of a giant squid. The men grasp them as if their lives depended on it, pulling the Nazarene through the streets in hopes that their physical exertion will translate into good luck in the New Year.

Pushing and shoving commences. Men push, pry, and prod trying to loosen the grip of those holding the ropes, fighting for a chance to strain and struggle. Those holding the ropes close their eyes and rest on each other, sucking in the experience, praying.

The energy escalates further. The buzz is quickly becoming a din. The shouts are only a block away. The ropes writhe with men clinging on for life, like army ants carrying their prey back to the nest.

A loud bell pierces the darkness- it is here.

A large cross, white and gold flash from the carriage, long ropes, and a black Jesus. Cheers erupt from the crowd. Towels flutter like ghosts in the wind, caught, rubbed, and released back to the owner to take home and cherish. Flash bulbs sparkle and illuminate the scene. Sweat, passion, faith, aggression, pain, pandemonium- the air is electric.

Those behind the carriage begin to push it forward.

The Nazarene moves off into the night as does the noise and calamity. Chaos is replaced by tranquility as the street is filled with hundreds of candle bearing followers. Silence. Light. The soft glow illuminating the faces, the emotions of those marching- the hot ember of adrenaline slowly cools.

Adobo, pancit mollo, and biko fill my stomach. Conversation between strangers follows. Eventually the crowd withers away and powerful fireworks rock the neighborhood. It is time to make my exit.

I say thank you to my gracious hosts and once again dart through the streets. Dodging explosions and ambulances, past the countless vendors of pirated computer programs and pornography, I move towards home, slipping away into the night.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Happy Feet

An Introduction to Migration in the Philippines

San Francisco, Munich, Dubai, Florence, Melbourne…

Roughly 1 million Filipino workers move abroad each year with an estimated 8 million, or nearly 10 percent of the country's population, working and/or residing in close to 200 countries and territories around the world (Asis).

According to a 2005 World Bank report, the Philippines is the fifth-largest recipient of remittancess, or money being sent home from workers abroad, after India, China, Mexico, and France (Asis).

With its low rate of foreign investment and a steady reduction in development assistance, the Philippines has come to rely on overseas employment as a strategy for survival (Asis). Indeed, remittances have become an important source of income for the Filipino economy generating more than $10 billion USD through official channels in 2005, or 13.5% of the country’s GDP (Teyes).

In the last 30 years, a "culture of migration" has emerged, with millions of Filipinos eager to work abroad despite the risks and vulnerabilities they are likely to face. A nationwide survey of 1,200 adult respondents in 2002 found one in five Filipinos expressed a desire to migrate (Asis).

Filipino society has become migration-savvy having developed the ability to respond and adjust to the changing demands of the global labor market. Anticipation of future demand for nurses, for example, has resulted in the proliferation of nursing schools and a remarkable increase in student enrollment in nursing programs in recent years. Even doctors are studying to be nurses to improve their chances of working abroad (Asis).

This dependency on foreign job markets is dangerous, however, as a sudden decrease in demand of nurses abroad, for example, can spell unemployment for the multitude of Filipino nurses unless they can obtain one of the few, mainly low-paying nursing positions in-country or can locate a new market abroad where their skills are in demand.

On the supply side, the push factors have not abated. The absence of sustained economic development, political instability, a growing population, double-digit unemployment levels, and low wages continue to compel people to look abroad (Asis).

On the demand side, the pull factors are ever-present as relatives return home to spend their newfound wealth presenting a glitzy reality of working abroad and the tantalizing promise of overseas salaries.

Without sustained development in the Philippines, job creation, and an increase in wages, Filipinos will continue to staff our hospitals as nurses, raise our children as domestic helpers, sing or dance as entertainers, man our ships as sailors, and fill a variety of generally cheap labor positions. There are Filipino migrants working in technology or other technical fields, but these are the exception not the rule.

This exodus from the Philippines results in what is referred to as “brain drain”- the top nurses, doctors, and other skilled workers seek jobs abroad to take advantage of higher wages while there is a shortage of nurses in-country, families are broken up and strained as parents and/or children move abroad for years at a time, and the lack of development and job creation at home fuels societal ills such as prostitution and drug trafficking.

A protester at a migrants rights rally in Manila

The Philippines has a migration-dependent economy that is customizing its workers to serve developing nations and fuel economic growth abroad while development and foreign investment at home stagnate prompting those left behind to become increasingly dependent on remittances.

Having such a large population abroad also increases the population vulnerable to human trafficking and other abuses. Migration’s relationship to trafficking will be discussed in a future post.

For now, Filipinos will continue to look beyond their borders for employment. The remittances will continue to pour in, fueling the local economy and improving quality of life for those in-country, but without local development and job creation, the Philippines will rely on others to employ its citizens and guide its economic destiny.


Asis, Maruja. The Philippines' Culture of Migration. Migration Information Source. Retrieved December, 22nd, 2006 from

Teves, Oliver. Remittances Can’t Replace Good Economic Policies. Global Nation. Retrieved December, 22nd, 2006 from

*All images from

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Mall of America

The Philippines is a country with the third longest coastline (36,289 km), the second largest archipelago (7,000 islands), and some of the largest mega malls in the world.

Expansive, exhaustive, indomitable- mere malls have nothing on these marvels of modern construction.

Imagine fifty strip malls within a Wal-Mart within a Bloomingdale’s, add a church, internet cafes, and multiple food courts (Starbucks, TGIF, and Taco Bell included), sprinkle liberally with arcades stocked with the latest Japanese videogames, movie theaters complete with THX sounds systems, cars on display, cell phone stands hawking pre-paid minutes, and every product electronic or otherwise conceivable to man and you’ll start to have an idea of the scope of these mega structures.

Mall of Asia: 386,224 m², 600 stores, 5,000 parking spaces

From fine to fast dining, morning mass to ice skating, malls in the Philippines have become more than A place to go- they are THE place to go.

Consuming and spitting out patrons like whales eat plankton, the sky is the limit as any consumer fantasy is fulfilled, no product or niche market left untapped. A recent visit to SM Mega Mall in Ortigas revealed a serendipitous stew of products within a fifty foot radius- electric guitars from the music stand, flaming wallets from the magic shop, fresh polo shirts from Lacoste, and 12-gauge shotguns from the camping store, and let’s not forget vcd’s for $1 USD a pop!

Glorietta Mall in Makati City, Manila

The point is, malls have thoroughly invaded the Philippines and scored a direct hit on the material needs of the masses. They have sucked away the need for small businesses and replaced local Filipino brands with the familiar Starbucks, KFCs, and Tommy Hilfigers, with the exception of Jollibee which dominates McDonalds in the local fast food market.

Malls serve as convenient outlets for spending the approximately $10 billion USD worth of remittances earned annually by overseas Filipino workers. Remittances are integral to the Filipino economy and will be discussed in future posts.

An example of a successful local business in the Philippines

Malls have become the one-stop shop in Manila for all of your needs. Not just shopping but dining, playing, strolling, and more- almost whatever you desire can be found in the gleaming, air-conditioned halls of one of these consumerist havens. And with spending power often boosted by overseas salaries from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, Filipinos are lacing up their walking shoes, wallets/purses in hand...