Looking over at old pictures in my Facebook account, I came across an album about my Rizal Studies Class’ fieldtrip to Mount Banahaw. Dr. Jose Rizal and Mt. Banahaw? You might ask me what is the connection between the two but well, only slightly. This mountain is home to the community of what has been called “Rizalistas” or those syncretic religious groups who consider Rizal as either prophet, Filipino “Messiah” or God the Son himself. My Evangelical Christian faith would abhor at such ideas but it was a unique cultural experience that shows how strong still are our ancestors’ animistic leanings in some of rural Filipinos.
Mount Banahaw has been the center of mystical beliefs in southern Luzon which sees a flock of visiting witch doctors climbing the mountains to commune with nature and some “supernatural” forces. Local belief has it that the Holy Land was “mysteriously” transfered from Israel to this little enclave because of the wars going on in the Middle East. Devotees of animistic belief like the so-called Rizalistas consider Mount Banahaw as a “holy mountain” or a sort of Mount Zion for these animistic groups. While Catholic beliefs have some foothold here, it merely added another flavor syncretize with some Christian “themes” and “terms”.
In the village community of Kinabuhayan, one could find a shrine of candles by a body of spring water. What is special with the spring? On the bottom of the water lies a boulder with a footprint-like impression which was named “Yapak ni Kristo”. They believe that this was the footprint Christ supposedly left before he ascended to heaven and was “mysteriously” relocated at this part of Mount Banahaw. Devotees or curious tourists alike would throw coins on the imprint and have it land on top of it for good luck while some would offer candles on their way maybe to the nearby Tres Persona Solo Dios Religious Community nearby.
Another curious natural formation etched with religious significance is the book-like rock formation called the “Book of Life”. It is said that if one lights a candle, writes the name on the rock formation using the fingers and utters a short prayer, one’s name would be included in the “Book of Life”. By this point, you would realize that part of these people’s syncretic beliefs involve a lot of creative thinking for who would have noticed it looks like a book. The area is littered with other natural formations like “Terah’s Rock”, an image of the “Trinity” formed on another boulder and another rock formation of a devotee or saint prostrate in deepest prayer.
Caves constitute an important part in the centrale belief of the locals. From the cathedral-like heights to the most claustrophobia-inducing narrow ones, caves have dominated across religious stories, no wonder why caves in Mt. Banahaw are held as “sacred”. We explored Justicia Cave, a very narrow cave said to “stretch” according to a person’s size when someone enters it. It is said that the sinless who dare explore will come out unscathed while those with sin will have wounds but will be absolved. It was a literal crawl to the end of the cave and what do you know, I came out unscathed! I think the cave should “upgrade” its sin “detector”.
Even if we remove the mystical aspect of Mount Banahaw, the place in itself exudes an awe of mystery since it is a rainforest with all its natural beauty intact. From clean flowing rivers to its hardy mountain trails, Mount Banahaw and the neignboring Mount Cristobal attract nature enthusiasts and mountain climbers as well. Native species of animals still dwell in the hidden nooks and crannies here. At present though, a big number of mountain trails are closed to public due to incessant littering problems. However, the area continues do draw tourists who are there for a nature trip or just curious about the culture in the locale.
This area of Mount Banahaw and Mount Cristobal is its historical draw as well. Vestiges of nationalism, seeds of the revolution and the struggle for freedom had their last ground here. The Cofradia de San Jose or the Confraternity of St. Joseph, a movement to indigenize the Philippine Catholic Church, was started at the foot of Mt. Banahaw by Hermano Pule, an Indio priest rejected for membership to the Dominican Order. Their movements met a violent end at the foot of Mount Cristobal with its members massacred by the Spaniards. Gen. Macario Sakay also held base with the last remnant of the First Philippine Republic here.
Interested to the explore the place for a cultural, natural and historical experience? One tip is that go as a group so that you can divide the expenses among yourselves since you may have to hire a jeepney for trails and attractions farther from the town center or poblacion. Food and accommodations are not a problem at all but do not expect a high-class accommodation, just hikers’ inns and some food from the carinderias run by friendly locals. Some inns do provide you with a small cooking space and fresh ingredients are available in the local market. The most important reminders? Be courteous to the elderly and never leave your trash around.