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The real ‘Hari ng Tondo’ is a baby

by Jericho Zafra

INTERESTED in joining this year’s Sinulog Festival but dealing with petsa-de-peligro at the same time? Maybe Tondo is the place to be.

After the much-celebrated feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, some Manileños are now heading to Tondo for the celebration of Santo Niño (Baby Jesus) festivities.

The feast of Santo Niño de Tondo is celebrated every third Sunday of January. For the first time since the pandemic, the feast will go back to where it used to be celebrated: in the streets.

Online portal Pintakasi, which blogs about the stories of Filipino religiosity and ecclesiastical history, said the Santo Niño de Tondo is regarded as the second-oldest venerated picture of the Child Jesus in the Philippines, after Santo Niño de Cebu. 

It is one of the most well-known images of the Child Jesus in the country. Aside from attracting pilgrims from Tondo and other areas of Manila who come to worship the King of Tondo, his church is also renowned for being among the most visited in the country, according to the report.

The image of Santo Niño de Tondo

There were insufficient documents about the image’s arrival, which prompted a plethora of legends about how he emerged in Tondo, Pintakasi said. It is generally believed that the image of the Sto. Niño de Tondo was transported to the Philippines by a wealthy trader from Acapulco, Mexico, in the early 1570s. Another story of the origin is that it was discovered by a soldier among the looted artifacts retrieved from Cebu.

The Santo Niño de Tondo is shown as a Royal Ruler donning a crown, a scepter, and the orb and cross towering in a tall peaña (platform of the image). The Santo Nino de Tondo is often dressed in his distinctive silver plancha y capa or richly embroidered garments. The Child Jesus’s face has the distinctive feature of revealing his teeth in a way that makes it appear as though he is grinning at the viewer. The head, hands, and feet of the figure are made of carved ivory. The image has its own collection of jewels, from crowns, scepters, the orb, and the cross, it said.

The 1972 Robbery

As put together from various historical accounts, the image of Santo Niño de Tondo was taken from its shrine on July 14, 1972. Fr. Lorenzo Egos claimed the robbers fled the cathedral after the church doors were locked at 8 p.m. 

After the image was stolen, the country was struck by one of the most memorable natural disasters – Typhoon Gloring, which brought rains for days that killed hundreds of people and caused millions of pesos worth of damage. The majority of Filipinos believed that the disaster was caused by the theft of the miraculous image of Santo Niño de Tondo, Pintakasi said.

A separate account from El Filipinismo said that authorities captured four men who stole the image and were shown that the image was dismembered. The main body was discarded in a nearby canal, while the rest was in the possession of other robbers. Luckily, all parts of the image were recovered. 

Former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. ordered the urgent reconstruction of the desecrated image; the onerous task was handed to sculptor Máximo Vicente. 

The celebration

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, devotees of Sto. Niño de Tondo were barred from holding religious activities as these could lead to the spread of COVID-19. 

But this year, they could celebrate their faith in the streets again. 

Naomi Halili, who hails from Ugbo in Tondo, said that she is grateful that the annual feast has returned to the old times despite having many restrictions due to the pandemic.

“Of course, as a devotee, I am grateful that we are now allowed to participate in activities but also, we have to follow health protocols to protect ourselves, too,” said Halili in Filipino.

One of the much-awaited activities, according to Halili, is the Lakbayaw, a fun-filled procession where the image of the baby Jesus visits various barangays together with devotees and other tourists while chanting “Viva, Sto. Niño!”

For this year, the Manila City Government has imposed a liquor ban in barangays under the jurisdiction of two parishes in Tondo and Pandacan from January 12 to 15, in conjunction with this year’s Santo Nino celebrations. 

Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna issued Executive Order No. 3 on Thursday, restricting the sale of liquor and other alcoholic drinks within the territorial boundaries of the Santo Nino de Tondo Parish and the Santo Nino Parish Pandacan in order “to promote peace and order in the city” as the annual feast is commemorated.

Banner Photo Credit: Ramon Velasquez



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