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March 26,2013 12:32 AM

Aside from its sweet mangoes, the province of Guimaras is also a destination for thousands of Catholic pilgrims every Lenten Season because of its famous "Ang Pagtaltal sa Balaan Bukid" every Good Friday in Jordan town.

Now on its 37th year "Ang Pagtaltal sa Balaan Bukid" evolved from a stage play to a street drama of the passion of Christ. Amid the scorching heat of the sun, more than 130 characters followed by devotees have to walk for more than two kilometers passing 14 stations before they reach the mountain top of the province known as Balaan Bukid.

The theatrical presentation starts with the triumphant approach of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem portrayed at the world’s smallest plaza in Jordan’s Brgy. Poblacion and ends with the "Pieta" at the highest point of Guimaras at the Balaan Bukid Shrine in Barangay Balcon Melliza.

"Pagtaltal" in local dialect means to remove thus, the street drama ends with the removal of Jesus from the Cross.

One of the most difficult characters in the play is the role of Jesus Christ. Since its inception, four persons took turns playing the role.

Arturo Segubre, now 63 years old, played the longest role for 22 years starting in 1998. His looks resemble one of the images of Jesus Christ with his shoulder-length hair. He has a soft look but penetrating eyes that would really remind one of Jesus Christ at a glance. He has a slender body built towering at more than five-feet five inches.

Segubre’s portrayal of Jesus Christ in 2012 was his last. Due to his age he decided to relinquish it to a younger actor because he already had difficulty trekking Balaan Bukid.

His successor is almost his mirror-image, 35-year-old Felimon Sobosa, a farm worker. Sobosa who will start his portrayal of Jesus Christ this year admitted that he has yet to see Segubre.

“I did not apply for the role but instead I was chosen for reasons I really don’t know,” he said.

Although new, he said that he prayed that the Lord will guide him in playing his best to honor the role expected of him.

The character of Jesus Christ along with other characters has to memorize the lines they have to recite starting from the first up to the last scenes. However, his additional burden would be to carry the more than seven-foot high cross and suffer the lashes that were inflicted into his body.

The big cross is made of plywood and the whips are soaked in red dyes to mimic blood. Instead of being nailed, he will tied to the cross.

Equally excited for the "Pagtaltal" are Rolando Zaldivar who played the role of a Jewish guard and Kevin Guileño, a Roman warrior. Both have played their respective roles well for four years already and they intend to stay as their "pana-ad" or pledge.

Preparations for the play lasted for almost two months.

Gerardo Galan, caretaker of the Pagtaltal Foundation office, has been part of the event for more than 10 years. He also takes care of costumes used by the characters.

Personally he was able make more than 30 costumes, especially that of the Roman warriors which is one of the most intricate to make. Out of a pattern, they have to compose the costume made of rubber slice, piece of cloth accentuated with stones and brown or red colored chicken feathers.

Galan said that they are now set for the theatrical presentation with Emil Baldonado as their director.

The event also placed in equal footing the religious significance of the Balaan Bukid Shrine. It is also known as the Ave Maria Purisima Shrine where the Mother and Child image was enshrined.

It is one of the landmarks of the province that was discovered by Rev. Fr. Vigil Pixner,OSD, an Italian priest who was then the chaplain at the Western Visayas Leprosarium based in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo, according to the narration of Denfield Gange, who facilitated the coming up of a book on the history of Guimaras.

To make the place more inviting to visitors this year, the local government unit (LGU) led by mayor Cresente Chavez made the place accessible to vehicles up to the 12th Station of the Cross.

Pilgrims now have options to trek the entire two kilometers or just the last two stations. This Good Friday, however, the road will be closed to vehicles for the theatrical presentation.

The LGU has already designated places where vendors can sell their goods without disrupting the solemnity of the presentation. It partly responds to the aspiration of the local government to create more related activities that will provide livelihood opportunities among its residents.

To ensure the safety of pilgrims, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will also be deploying additional personnel in the area.

While this place is primarily known for its "Pagtaltal," the local government aspires to make it a year-round religious destination that likewise provides thrill to nature trekkers.

Bala-an Bukid treats every visitor with a welcoming soft and cold breeze and a panoramic view of Iloilo City that is separated by the breathtaking beauty of the Guimaras and Iloilo Strait. (PNA)

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