HomeCommentaryPhilippines' feast of Child Jesus a reminder of the gift of life

Philippines’ feast of Child Jesus a reminder of the gift of life

Human life should be seen not just as a fundamental human right but as a gift from the Creator.

In 1982, during the height of martial law in the Philippines, a mother of three daughters prayed before the Child Jesus for a baby boy.

The woman has been longing for a son since she gave birth to her youngest daughter nine years earlier. 

Every day for months, she would kneel before a small altar where a foot-tall image of the Child Jesus, known as the Santo Niño in the Philippines, was placed.

In 1983, her request was finally granted. I was born. 

Since I was a kid, my mother kept on telling me that I was a gift from the Santo Niño, and that her devotion to the country’s most famous religious icon played a role in her raising me up.

I am the only son in the family. After me, my parents were gifted with two more daughters.  

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That image of the Child Jesus is still on that altar in our hometown in the province of Camarines Norte.

To this day, my mother still whispers her prayers to the image of the Child Jesus. She claims that most of her prayers have been granted.

The image of the Santo Niño is ever present in almost every home, restaurant, office, even in bars and in vehicles all over the Philippines. 

Devotees even dress their images up as vendors, farmers, fishermen, doctors, teachers, policemen, and soldiers.

Devotion to the Child Jesus started in 1565 when Spanish conquerors supposedly found an image of the Santo Niño under a pile of rubble in the central Philippine province of Cebu.

It is believed that the image was the gift given by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, head of the first Spanish expedition to the islands in 1521, to the queen of Cebu during her baptism.

I met a lot of people who, like my mother, are devotees of the Child Jesus.

One of them is Maria Mesa de Parine, a 52-year-old mother who lost two sons to the government’s ongoing “war on drugs.” 

Maria Mesa de Parine prays before an image of the Child Jesus for her son who was a victim of summary execution in Manila. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Every year, during the third Sunday of January, Maria joins the annual procession of the image of the Child Jesus in Manila’s Tondo district.

In her shanty is an altar with the image of the Santo Niño beside a photograph of her slain sons.

“I always pray to the Child Jesus to take care of my children even in the afterlife,” said Maria, a daily wage worker in a nearby factory.

Her youngest son Aljhon, 23, worked as a fist hauler in Manila’s fish port until he was killed by masked men who were hunting for drug users and peddlers.

At Aljhon’s wake, armed men snatched Maria’s other son, Danilo, 30. He was taken to the village hall where he was detained. The village police asked Maria to pay about US$200 for her son’s freedom. 

“They said that if I could not give them the money by one o’clock in the morning my son would be taken away,” recalled the woman.

Maria was not able to pay the ransom. Danilo’s bullet-ridden body was later found floating in a nearby river. He was buried with other victims of “extrajudicial killings” in a mass grave three months later. 

Like my mother, Maria said she considers her sons as gifts from the Santo Niño. 

She admitted that she asked the Child Jesus why would He give something precious and the suddenly take it away.

I disagreed with her. I told her that it was not God who took her sons away but the people behind the bloody war on drugs.

A devotee of the Santo Niño in the Philippines holds the image of the Child Jesus while praying. (Photo by Victor Kintanar)

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported that there were at least 5,552 people who were killed in legitimate anti-narcotics police operations from July 2016 to December 2019. 

News organizations and human rights groups, however, have claimed that the death toll is about 30,000. The victims included at least 54 children during the first year of the “war.”

These victims were somebody’s father, mother, daughter, or son. They were all “gifts” from God and their lives were taken by somebody who does not value that.

Believers and non-believers will agree that the right to life is a fundamental and father of all human rights. 

States, therefore, must guarantee that the right to life, among other human rights, have to be respected. It is how civilized nations supposedly work. 

The Philippines’ anti-narcotics campaign is not wrong, it is even necessary to combat the proliferation of illegal drugs. 

What is wrong is how the author and the proponents of the campaign think or perceive human life. 

What makes it worse is the fact that a lot of Filipinos, including legislators, politicians, police officers, and even ordinary citizens who support the program claim to be “Christians.”

Some members of the clergy, who would claim that they are against the “war on drugs,” fail to condemn those behind the killings.

These so-called Christians seemed to not distinguish a human person from a cockroach. 

Sociology professor Jayeel Serrano Cornelio said Filipino devotion to the Child Jesus “revolves around suffering and struggle.”

It is true. But these sufferings were brought to us by the very people in the government who are supposed to protect our right to life.  

The killings continue and will continue until the Philippine government withdraws this anti-poor policy. 

Faith and religiosity is deeply embedded in the lives of the Filipinos, but our perception of human life and the right to life seems to contradict the teaching of whatever religion we belong to. 

We must look at human life not just as a fundamental human right but as a gift from the Creator who also gave us free will. 

This week, as the Philippines celebrates the feast of the Santo Niño, I hope that Filipinos will be reminded that human life is a gift and that we are responsible not only for our own life but for the world where we belong.

Mark Saludes is a freelance journalist based in Manila who reports on social justice and human rights issues for LiCAS.news. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS. news.

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