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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!