Correcting a pagan Baliw festival

STRAIGHT TO THE POINT - Atty. Ruphil Bañoc - The Freeman

Recently, the Baliw-Baliw Festival in Olango Island, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, has captured my attention as it has created noise on social media, particularly on Facebook.

Cebuanos and tourists rushed to the beautiful island of Olango to celebrate and witness the annual Baliw-Baliw Festival. Some even filed for leave from work.

Why is it called Baliw-Baliw? Baliw is a Tagalog word meaning “going crazy” in English. It has a different meaning in Cebuano. It has something to do with karma, bad karma in particular.

But why did the Baliw-Baliw festival become viral? It happened this way; the image of San Vicente Ferrer was placed on a wooden carriage held up high by the Catholic faithful. It happened during the procession, after the Mass for the patron’s fiesta.

However, some men wore women's clothing, such as brassieres and wigs, with their cheeks smeared with red lipsticks, while other men pretended to be pregnant and holding a giant phallic symbol. They joined the supposedly solemn procession.

Some alleged that this is their way of expressing thanks for being healed from prostate cancer, and that it has been an ongoing practice since time immemorial. Some said that it even existed before the Sinulog Festival. Hence, a few insisted that this should be respected and should continue.

Although Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution speaks of freedom of religion, it does not mean unlimited. While we have different beliefs, we have to see to it also that we do not offend the sensitivity of others.

Every practicing and noble Catholic may pose this question, is it morally acceptable? Is it correct to mix it with the purely religious activity aspect of the fiesta celebration? Hence, as a Catholic, I am obligated to give my one-cent opinion on this matter.

Note, for Catholics, the original design of festival is to honor, pray, and give thanks to the patron saint after whom the fiesta is named. It should not be mixed up with immoral and unacceptable activities.

The immoral activities shown in the viral video are not the teaching of the Catholic Church. And, yes, when some insisted that the practice existed even before the arrival of the Santo Niño, in Cebu, this emphasized all the more that it does not belong to Catholic practice, but pagan. Note that Christianity and the Santo Niño arrived in 1521 when Fr. Pedro del Valderama, the Magellan expedition’s chaplain, arrived in Cebu.

I understand that some officials want to promote tourism and the place's culture to attract tourists. Fine, but it should not be mixed up with purely religious activities.

Let's be reminded that the proper practice of religion is free from malice and not offensive to the feelings of the faithful.

If the organizer intended to promote socio-cultural activity to attract and boost tourism in Olango Island, they should not have paraded this immoral act. Those faithful who understood the Catholic teachings may find this offensive to their feelings.

Although when interviewed during my Straight to the Point program aired over dyHP RMN Cebu, San Vicente Olango Island Barangay Captain Cyrus Eyas and chapel President Benedicto Sagarino promised to correct the celebration. I hope our Catholic priests can also give them the proper guidance.

Once and for all, this practice needs to be corrected. Otherwise, it should not be mixed with the saint’s fiesta.

Let’s not forget that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah reached their full measure of rebellion, and God sent the burning sulfur. Let’s not wait for the full measure of rebellion to experience God’s punishment.

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