The Worship of a Divine Jose Rizal in Mt. Banahaw

For most Filipinos, Dr. Jose Rizal is not only the Philippines’ national hero, he is also a medical doctor, a novelist, a poet, a linguist, a revolutionary, and a martyr.

However, for a group of people in the mystical mountain of Banahaw in Quezon Province, Rizal is not only all of these things, he is a divine being as well.

I knew of this group of people who call themselves Rizalistas only when I took the class PI 100 under Nilo S. Ocampo in the University of the Philippines. Sir Nilo always takes his classes to Banahaw, and I was amazed at what I discovered there. I grew up knowing Rizal as a hero; I didn’t know he was also worshiped as a god by others.

Mt Banahaw

Mt Banahaw from a distance. ©Mooglet

There are many Rizalista organizations based in Calamba, Laguna and in Mt. Banahaw. Some of the registered ones include Ciudad Mistica de Dios, Banner of the Race Church, Iglesia Sagrada ni Lahi, Iglesia Sagrada Filipina, Knights of Rizal, and Samahan ng Tatlong Persona Solo Dios.

All these organizations have Rizal in common, but when it comes to their beliefs regarding the national hero, they can be widely divergent. Some of the sects, for example, believe that Rizal is a God; others think that he is just the son.

There are those who consider him a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, a saint and a prophet, and still others who think of him as god and man in one aspect.

Mt. Banahaw

Mt. Banahaw is full of mysteries. ©Lance Catedral

When our class went to Mt. Banahaw (this was pre-digital cameras, so I don’t have photos), we went to Kalbaryo with its three crosses at the peak. We also went to the Kweba ni Santong Jacob (St. Jacob’s Cave) where some of the more adventurous in the class (including myself), went down into the underground river, and, holding on to a ladder, dipped our heads underwater seven times.

Not all of my classmates went; the opening into the cave was very small, it was dark, and the water was cold. Some were even worried about its cleanliness.

The Rizalistas believed that by dipping into the water, one’s sins are forgiven. It’s like being baptized all over again. I didn’t hold the same beliefs, but emerging from that dark cave and into the light, I felt cleansed indeed.

My most memorable time in Mt. Banahaw, however, was when we were asked by Sir Nilo to go into the Husgado (Justice) Cave. It is a small cave with very tight passages, and to go from one end to another requires you to squeeze yourself in between the rocks.

According to local lore, not everyone can make it through Husgado. It’s called such because, supposedly, all those who enter are judged. Those who are successful in coming out are deemed “saved.” Those who get stuck are not.

Mt Banahaw

Emerging successfully out of Husgado. ©Sithli

I can still remember my excitement seeing the Husgado. I didn’t for a moment think that I would fail, but squeezing through the tight passages was indeed a test of faith—in myself, if not in Rizal as a divine being. I didn’t blame some of my classmates for backing out; for those who are claustrophobic or are not much into spelunking, Husgado can indeed be very scary.

Ten years after that class field trip, I can only look back and feel a tiny bit of regret that I haven’t made the most of my time with the Rizalistas in Mt. Banahaw. There are so many things I could have learned from them about Dr. Jose Rizal.

Mt. Banahaw is still closed to climbers to give time for the mountain to recover, but come 2012, when it opens, I will be one of the first to go there to try to plumb its mysteries.



This is my entry to the 8th Blog Carnival of the Pinoy Travel Bloggers called  “Rizal and Travel” hosted by Ivan Henares.

 Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!


  1. says

    Nice to know that Mt. Banahaw would be opened in 2012. Like you, I intend to visit the place, talk to the sects and connect with what the men and women in white serving 24/7 at Rizal’s Casa Residencia in Rizal Shrine Dapitan were telling me. Excellent post Aleah, thanks for sharing this.

  2. says

    I think there’s a similar group in Mt. Apo – the moncadistas in New Israel. Our prof back in UP Mindanao would take a few of his students with him for research and field trips too. :)

  3. says

    @ Grace: Banahaw’s been closed for some time. It was supposed to be for just 5 years only, but it’s been extended. Some climbers still go up, but they’re not “legal” and at least, there’s just a few of them.
    @ Claire: Yeah, the lore says the passages get smaller if you’re a sinner. Never heard of anyone not making it out though. Probably because they make the wise decision of not going in in the first place. hehe
    Aleah recently posted..The Worship of a Divine Jose Rizal in Mt. Banahaw

  4. says

    Hi, Aleah! I came across your blog post on Banahaw as I was looking around on the web for articles about the Rizalistas there. Nice post! :)

    I just got back from my third visit to the place–the first two was for NSTP and the third for Rizal–and I believe that there really is something about the place and its people that leaves a visitor moved in some way. As for my own experience, my three trips to Banahaw (not to mention the excellent lecture of my professor in Rizal about its history) have somehow tapped into my sense of nationalism, to say the least. Nabibilib ako sa na-exprience ko (kahit napagod rin ako ng husto sa biglaang hiking namin)–ang galing lang.

    Sana marami pang mga estudyante ang makapunta doon, kusa man o sapilitan, kasi panigurado mamamangha rin sila sa Banahaw.

  5. says

    @ Bon: The Rizalistas are a group (actually several groups) of people who believes that Rizal is someone divine. To call them a cult is a disservice to them because that word has a lot of negative connotation already :) It was closed because it’s a popular mountain and it needed to recover from the damage caused by climbers who don’t practice LNT principles.
    @ Kriska: I envy you for having gone there 3x! And it’s good you appreciate them; too many people think they are only subject for photography or to satisfy their curiosity.
    Aleah recently posted..Day Trip from Manila—Our Mt. Pinatubo Trekking Adventure

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