The Ritual of “Hubo”

Fr. Ric Anthony A. Reyes, OSA (The Freeman) - January 25, 2015 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - If a local or foreign tourist gets the chance to attend the ritual of “Hubo” on a Friday a week after the Fiesta Señor, they may find interesting or the least find it weird that a simple ritual formally reintegrates the long and grandiose festival to the ordinariness of quotidian life. Interesting or weird, one can be amused to accept a seemingly “private activity” to be done in public – and mind you – a populous public comparable to the crowd of the novena days and the fiesta.

“Hubo” is a ritual of undressing-bathing-and-vesting the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu. This is an authentic Cebuano ritual forged as a public ceremony sometime in the 1990s. Though relatively new, the rite expresses not only a long-standing devotion. It is integrating local culture and religion; an act which finds personal meaning and impact in every devotee because it does happen in their daily lives.


The Roots of the Practice and its Development

Perhaps, the special fondness of Filipino to their little children is the main reason why the “Hubo” rite became a public spectacle. It used to be a “private” ritual as indeed it should be, because human behavior would always dictate us that we undress in private. So as the Sto. Niño whom we considered so dear and important to us. He must have a “VIP treatment.” But again, the “privacy” reason may have given to insistent public as many people truly adore the cuteness of little babies and children being taken care of by their parents. Maybe, it is also true to the Sto. Niño. While human sentiments draw us to behold the innocence of little babies in the image of the Holy Child being divested, bathed and vested, we cannot but think of the times we were taken care of by our parents. We may recall the intimate moments, when once we were bathed as little boys and girls and clothed by our parents. What a touching experience!

Digging into history books, there were stories and legends which tell us of this same attitude towards the Sto. Niño. The first recipient and “owner” of the Sto. Niño, Queen Humamay or Juana has reportedly bathed the Holy Child and changed his clothes. When the Augustinians took care of the image as its custodians, they surely took care of the image as they changed the vest on a regular basis. The Sto. Niño Museum of the Basilica del Sto. Niño possesses a large collection of the older vests of the Holy Child from the generous donations of devotees dated as early as the 17th century. This just shows that since then, the practice has been alive but however bracketed in privacy.

Since 1990, when the ritual became public, integrated to the liturgy of the Holy Mass, “Hubo” has its own set of rites. The beautiful and meaningful unfolding of the ritual starts after the homily when a group of “natives” with little children dance the traditional Sinug in front of the sanctuary where the image is also located. After the drumbeats abruptly stop, the presider,   divests the image starting from its crown, scepter and orb, royal sash and jewelry, the red cape, the white outer vest and then its inner pants and shirt. With each step, a prayer recalling   the episodes of the passion of the Lord is said, followed by the chanting of “Christe, exaudi nos!” (Christ, hear us!). The roll of drumbeats again add to the “excitement” until the whole image is divested. It is then taken into a container of perfumed water and immersed three times. After the bath, the image is wiped with a towel and then returned to its peaña or stand. The vesting then begins in a manner like the divesting but in an opposite order starting from the inner wear. The prayers being said are a recalling of the resurrection of the Lord each responded by the people with victorious “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat” (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands). The striking difference now is that the fresh clothes of the Holy Child has put on is simpler and devoid of the majestic trappings and laces of the festivity. It is as if reminding the people that the fiesta has ended. The perfumed water is usually sprinkled to the devotees and some even ask for a small amount of the water to be used as a sacramental. Others, indeed as an expression of a folk piety, use them for medicinal purposes.


The Meaningfulness of the Rite

At the last verse of the famous gozos Batobalani sa Gugma of the Sto. Niño, a very powerful plea which must strike every devotee: “Nangayo kami kanimo, nga ang matahum mong larawan, sa sulod sa kalag namo, makahimo’g puluy-anan…” Indeed, we should find a place for the Sto. Niño in our hearts because we find in Him God who is approachable. But, more than that, internalizing the character and example of the Sto. Niño gives meaning, purpose and direction in our lives. “Hubo” may be just a “final shot” of Fiesta Señor but it has its own contribution in our devotion to the Sto. Niño. How does it find relevance in our lives?

An Augustinian theologian, Fr. Czar Emmanuel Alvarez, OSA, commenting on the event, related “Hubo,” the act of undressing the Sto. Niño to the “kenosis” or the self-emptying of Jesus. Indeed, as the prayers accompanying the rite of undressing, Jesus’ passion is recalled, making aware all those who are attending that the Holy Child we are beholding will grow in wisdom and age, in humility and in obedience to the Father even unto death, death on the cross (cf. Phil. 2.8). The connectivity of “Hubo” surpasses sentiments and familiarity of parental care. “Hubo” is a response of Jesus to the care of his Father by being obedient to the mission forged in love. The ritual speaks of the love our parents have for us and that it is also an imperative that we respond to that love by growing in humility and obedience like the Sto. Niño.

“Hubo” also means conversion. As the Sto. Niño takes on a “simpler” vest, the story of resurrection unfolds. The glorious Christ is seen in the very image of the Sto. Niño. Conversion is new life, new creation! It is living in the simplicity of Jesus’ new life when we do not need the glaring wealth of the world. We undress our old selves and vest it in the newness of Christ in order to assimilate his life such that, with Saint Paul, we can say: “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal  2:20).

As we close the Fiesta Señor, may we never let ourselves rest from the constant meditation on the Sto. Niño. The ritual of “Hubo” has just “returned” us to the ordinariness of life. But it does not put an end to our piety and our devotion. May it deepen more, take root towards our hearts so that it may bear fruit abundantly.


Freedom of information, Internet freedom highlight media summit

The passage of the freedom of information law in the Philippines is long overdue and the same must get legislative support now that 15 years has passed.

This was emphasized by investigative journalist Malou Mangahas in the plenary during the opening day of the Citizen Media Summit in Cebu organized by international organization Global Voices.

“We’ve done practically everything. Filing of the bill continues. It has been 15 years since the first bill was filed. We have already gathered at least 80,000 signatures online and offline. Now, we are counting on the practice of journalists,” Mangahas said.

Mangahas, founder and executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, told an international audience at the Cebu Provincial Capitol that the Philippine government’s budget disclosure is a positive development in its efforts for transparency but cautioned this must not be equated to a positive response for an FOI law.

The Philippine situation was presented alongside situations in Mexico and Hungary, countries that have adopted the FOI, but still continue to struggle for transparency in government transactions.

Juan Tadeo from Mexico said that even with an FOI and a special office tasked to carry out the law, government response for data and information requests remain slow.

“About 95 percent of requests for information is filed electronically when only three of ten homes in Mexico have internet connection,” Tadeo said.

Those running the transparency office are reportedly affiliated, if not controlled, by ruling political parties, he added.

Protection Online

As governments like the Philippines continue to be move against full public disclosure and transparency and as the public resort to the Internet as a platform to air grievances, censorship has become a challenge among netizens. 

Al Alegre of the Foundation for Media Alternatives says the battle to protect netizens’ rights must be waged on every move to regulate, such as surveillance. Legislation, for one, has to be accompanied by certain human rights protections.

Safeguards become imperative especially that institutions like the government have become more aggressive in the global fight against terrorism. In line with this campaign, employment of the so-called 3Cs has reportedly become prevalent in government’s dealing with telecommunications companies – coercion, cooperation and corruption.

With leaks in institutions such as the controversial cases in the United States, it was also observed that governments have engaged in “excessive” communication surveillance. Evidence reportedly suggests that governments are intercepting communications increasingly and have undertaken unsupervised, unwarranted surveillance.

The most recent case in the United States was that of computer professional Edward Snowden in 2013 who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency.

While security concerns by governments are legitimate, the problem, Alegre says, is that while legal access to online activity has increased, safeguards have decreased. 

He says human rights principles have to be taken into account and checks and balances have to be put in place clearly, especially in legislating regulation. — Jessa J. Agua/JMO (FREEMAN)

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