The image of San Vicente is placed on a sakayan or small boat for a fluvial procession from the bridge at nearby Sta. Rosa to San Vicente, Labajo said in her field notes. The males would wear women’s clothes, and some would wear big phalluses and dance. It used to be komparza, or a free-flowing dance that combines cha-cha and kuradang, but, later on, speakers would blare Max Surban and Yoyoy Villame songs. On Monday, it was loud rhythmic beats like in a mardi gras parade.
Erwin Eyas, administrator of the San Vicente BoardWalk Marine Sanctuary, said the event should be called “Pabaliw Festival.”
Eyas, who once served as organizer of the event, said “baliw” to mean crazy is a Tagalog word that is not apt for the local tradition. He said “pabaliw” to mean a taboo act that risks divine punishment is the correct Bisaya word to use for the event.
He said it was a “reverse celebration” that mixes paganism and Christianity. He also said some aspects of the festival have been made more shocking and scandalous by outsiders. The purported selling of cow manure as food started with offerings of burnt or leftover rice, Eyas claimed. Having leftover rice signified abundance and offering it to San Vicente Ferrer was to pray for year-round abundance.
In previous years, revelers would play with animals such as using them as fish bait or letting them fight but this was stopped for violating the Animal Welfare Act after photos leaked of the practice.
Eyas said the display of phalluses may have had its roots in devotees who got healed by San Vicente and then stripped naked to prove to the world they were healed.
Labajo, however, said she suspects the play with phallic symbols is related to fertility rituals or linked to fishing.
Some say the Eyas said the display of phalluses may have roots in devotees who got healed by San Vicente and then stripped naked to prove to the world they were healed, although some say she suspects the play with phallic symbols is related to fertility rituals or linked to fishing
Roxanne Omega Doron, executive director of Bisdak Pride, Inc., said Baliw Baliw may have roots in the practice by Spanish colonizers of calling babaylans “baliw.” Doron is currently working on research related to spirituality and sociology of religion.
Doron said the practice in San Vicente can also be traced back to fertility rituals of babaylan, the shamans of old who were often gay men. He said the community’s proximity to Nalusoan Island has significance; luso is Bisaya for penis.
Even the setting of the feast day, Doron said, has roots on the babaylan. The community does not celebrate the fiesta on San Vicente’s traditional feast day in April but on the day in May with the highest noontime tide. This is information that the babaylan has, Doron said, being the link to nature and spirit world.
Through the generations
Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Ilocos Region Director Ahmed Cuizon said locals trace the practice to as far back as the 1700s. Cuizon attended the event for the first time on Monday and said he enjoyed it. Cuizon once served as Lapu-Lapu City tourism commissioner and wrote the history of the city as part of the Cebu Provincial Government’s history books project.
A dildo makes an appearance at the Baliw Baliw Festival
Cuizon said the parading of phallic symbols offended a local priest some decades back and he forbade the practice. This led to the fiesta’s decline. He said that it was the late National Artist Ramon Obusan who encouraged the local community to revive the tradition when he went to the barangay in the late 1990s. Eyas said Obusan had long been searching for the place after hearing about the festival. Cuizon said the cultural scholar brought home one of the phallic symbols with the two coconuts as testicles and displayed it in his living room.
Labajo said most priests assigned to the place frown on the practice. It was largely ignored in the homily of popular priest Fr. Ciano Ubod, who presided over one of that morning’s fiesta masses.
“If it is already customary, which means the practice is more than 30 years already, and then it does not go against existing Liturgical law (like within Holy Week), and it was tolerated by the competent authority (the bishop), then it will have the force of law. But I don't really know its background. I do not know if it is customary to the place,” said canon lawyer Msgr. Raul Go when asked about Baliw Baliw.
The practice, it seemed, has passed on to the next generation. Jumao-as, the DRRMO employee who arranged his schedule to be able to join Baliw Baliw, said he has been part of the tradition since he was 16 years old and that it is now his covenant to those that came before him to continue with the practice. Jumao-as added that was recently visited in his dream by San Vicente to remind him to go to church and to observe his faith.
A Baliw Baliw participant joins the festivities by bringing around a tray of cow manure
Janreb Butalid, 21, joined his friends and also wore women’s clothes during the event. He said it was his offering to San Vicente. Butalid is out of school and without work. He described himself as a tambay during our interview, or Krusty Krab manager on his Facebook profile.
Paquibot cousins Ara, Lahlaine, and Esty were also among the young people who attended Baliw Baliw. Ara took a leave from work. The three said it was a tradition of the place but couldn’t say how it started.
Edwina Sabang, 36, brought her seven-month-old child Jose to the fiesta mass before the Baliw Baliw. She stood outside the chapel, near where the candles were lit for offering. Sabang said she prayed to San Vicente for the child and continues to seek his blessing for their good health. She and a fellow church goer were unenthusiastic when asked about Baliw Baliw but said only to let it be. If it is stopped, like in the past, bad things happen. People get sick, they told me, and some die.
A statuette of San Vicente stands guard at the entrance to the chapel in his namesake barangay on Olango Island. The locals celebrate on the day in May with the highest noontime tide the Baliw Baliw festival in his honor
When the crowd dispersed after the wild dancing and shouting, I asked a group of young men wearing bras and bikinis, “Mao na to?” (Was that it?)
After saying that the Baliw Baliw was done and telling me how to get back to port, they offered a glass of Red Horse beer that they were sharing by the roadside. “Shot sa,” one said with a toothy smile, his lips caked in deep red lipstick. I declined and we fist-bumped as I headed out of the barangay, to return to the mainland.