A senakulo — a costumed stage or street play about the life and Passion of Jesus — is one of the most important forms of public Holy Week devotion in the Philippines. On stages, in the streets and even in shopping malls across the country, Filipinos reenact the Passion story in scripted and improvised forms, with colorful costumes. The process of reenacting, of somehow embodying the story of the Passion, is powerfully attractive to many Filipinos.
Normally, the reenactment is done in a fashion that helps communicate the suffering of the Passion, not to actually replicate it. For devotees in several towns there, however, that act of embodiment is taken to an even greater extreme. San Pedro Cutud, a barangay in San Fernando City, Pampanga province, has become infamous as a site of a senakulo that aims to more fully replicate the bloodiest and most violent aspects of Jesus’ Passion. The rites, known as Maleldo, are not endorsed by the church, but do have local popular and political support, notably from the tourist bureau.
Almost all of the participants in these rituals are men. Some engage in pamagparaya — blood sacrifice, or self-flagellation — bloodying themselves in public; others crawl prostate through the hot streets, or carry a cross through the streets. Many more people, both men and women, serve as actors in the street Passion. Most famously, some participants, known as Kristos (Christs), are crucified on a cross with iron spikes. As many as two dozen men a year (and occasionally some women) undergo this ritual. While practices of self-flagellation are rooted in Spanish practices imported to the Philippines, "Crucifixions in the Philippines are phenomena of modernity and not centuries-old archaic relics."1 The tradition of crucifixions in San Pedro Cutud, oldest of the two Holy Week crucifixion sites in the Philippines, dates only to 1961, when a local faith healer, Antonio Añosa was first nailed to a cross "to get closer to Christ, closer than flagellation permitted... [and] to acquire healing power."2
The rationale for participants includes concern for sick or burdened loved ones, or penitence for the remission of their own sins, or a desire for strength to reform themselves from a particular vice or addiction. The public nature of the penance is important to the participants, making it more serious and real, a way of demonstrating faith.
P. J. Bräunlein, "Negotiating Charisma: The Social Dimension of Philippine Crucifixion Rituals," Asian Journal of Social Science 37 (2009) 892-917.