On military parade during Peñafrancia novena

During the second year of our preparation for the Tercentenary of our devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the Archbishop invited the Archdiocese of Caceres and the devotees to a communal discernment within the context of the theme: Renewing Our Faith Through Ina.

The Archbishop also explained the process of renewal, namely: communal discernment, period of purification, strengthening and deepening of faith.

Discernment is the first step towards making a moral decision. It includes 1) searching, 2) thinking, 3) consultation, and 4) prayer.

Our particular interest is whether the military parade is in harmony with the devotion to Ina. And whether it contributes to the spiritual maturity of the people.

We have participated, one way or another, in the military parade.  Many of us did so because we believed in the value of discipline, team work, and harmony that marching inculcates among our students. We also believed that by participating, we are cooperating in making the weeklong festivity colorful and spectacular, and therefore, it brings honor to Our Beloved Ina.

However, we want to reexamine the military parade during Peñafrancia and our active participation in it. Other than the objective of winning in the competition and thus bringing honor and prestige to our schools, what are the other benefits do we get from it? What particular spiritual maturity does it contribute to our schools, to our students, and to the society in general?

Peñafrancia Fiesta does not have a Military Component

The Military Parade during the Peñafrancia Fiesta probably started in 1940, according to Prof. Danilo Gerona. There was a mandate from the Philippine Commonwealth Government executed by Gen. McArthur to prepare the students for an impending war. The war in Europe broke out in 1939. Military intelligence said that Japan was bracing itself to attack the Philippines. Preparing for war could have included seeking intercession from Our Lady of Peñafrancia. That could be an explanation for the existence of a photo of military contingents during the celebration of the feast.

It is clear, however, that there was no military component in the Peñafrancia before 1940. It was never introduced to us by Fr. Miguel de Covarrubias or by any of the bishops of Caceres as an essential constitution of Marian devotion. It was not there when Traslacion and Fluvial Processions were introduced. It was not there even when Our Lady of Peñafrancia was declared Patroness of Bikolandia in 1924. In other words, military parade was never a tradition intrinsically attached to the novena to Our Lady of Peñafrancia.

Marching is Choreography

During the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese soldiers who were simply wearing wooden slippers (bakya) outsmarted the American soldiers who mastered the art of marching at West Point Academy. Thus, there is really nothing to marching at all in relation to preparing for war.

Marching is but plain choreography. And we all know that Hitler was the best choreographer of human history. The Nazis willfully marched to his personal aggrandizement.

If marching is discipline, does it translate to day-to-day discipline such as observance of traffic rules and enforcement of city ordinances? Does it instill the readiness to respond in case of emergencies and calamities? Does it give our students the courage to speak the truth and condemn all forms of injustices?

But why is it that the military is involved in extrajudicial killings and different forms of corruption in government? Marching discipline means only discipline in marching.

Demilitarization in the Country

Some years ago, CHED issued a Memorandum offering NSTP as an alternative to ROTC. This is to express the intent to demilitarize the country and engage students in a more productive exercise, i.e. social services.

While this is a national effort, it seems that this is not reflected here in Bikol, most specially during Peñafrancia Fiesta. There is more reason for the schools to rethink their participation in the military parade during a religious feast. Maybe, there is nothing wrong with a military parade to celebrate Independence Day or the Charter Anniversary of the City of Naga. But why during an activity that is religious in nature and character?

The military parade emphasizes the power of the military, and understates the power in the hands of the citizens. This does not help a country clamoring for democracy in the midst of extrajudicial killings, military coups and corruption in the armed forces.

A military parade within the Peñafrancia Fiesta is all the more inappropriate. It contradicts the truth that faith does not provoke us to war, but requires us to be instruments of peace. If civic activities had to be demilitarized, there is more reason for Peñafrancia fiesta to be demilitarized.


Other than the lack of history and meaning, parading with wooden guns is the most pathetic thing in the parade, according to anthropologist and Naga City Mayoral Awardee 2009 Tito Valiente. Further, the use of toy guns is carnivalesque. There is nothing wrong with real soldiers marching with real guns, according to him. But there is really something ridiculous with non-soldiers parading non-guns during a non-military event.


During this Bikol renaissance, when Bikolano writers and Bikolano artists are being honored in the mainstream, our consciousness should always be fashioned by the question, what is Bikol about what I am doing or writing?

What is indeed Bikol about Military Parade? The uniforms are strangely western. There is no trace of Bikol history and culture in that parade. What educational value does the public gain from witnessing the military parade?

Cost Effectiveness

UNEP (University of Northeastern Philippines), one of the participating schools, angrily wrote the organizers and expressed its sentiments. "We cannot hide the fact that this had truly upset us. We came all the way from Iriga City. Our school spent hundreds of thousands of pesos to show our best performance in the competition. Our Majorettes practiced day and night just to master their steps. There is so much commitment and dedication, not to mention sacrifice, just to give the best, yet all has come to naught due to the negligence of the organizing committee."

How many hundreds of hours do our students spend to practice for this military parade? How many hundreds of thousands of pesos does each school spend to join the parade? How much does every family spend for his/her child in order to participate in the parade?

Consider those who are still coming from Masbate and Catanduanes. The officers may find it worthwhile to spend. But how about cadets who are there simply to march? The Commandants may earn from it, but how about the parents? How true is it that the Association of CMT Commandants accredits tailoring shops that will provide the uniforms? Why is there a need to accredit tailoring shops? Who gains from such an arrangement?

Should we condone the reality that poor parents borrow money for uniforms, meals and pocket money of their sons and daughters for such an exercise in futility?

A Big Show at the Expense of the Participants

Some argue that the purpose of the Military parade is to add color to the celebration - a spectacle. However, we know that in theaters, people pay to watch and be entertained. Performers work hard to earn a living.

In this case, the crowd are being entertained, but at the expense of the performers. These young people are both subjected to the scorching heat of the sun and the draining of their pockets. But what do they get in return? The city and its organizers have everything to gain. But what do our students take from their performance?

This is not a fair practice at all.

Lastly, there is no Harmony with the Devotion

Every religious celebration is meant to nourish us spiritually. The Peñafrancia Fiesta is meant to remind us to imitate Mary for her undivided attention in serving God, the object of our devotion. Unfortunately, the military parade does not carry this religious message.

Marching, wooden guns, Western uniforms, accreditation of tailoring shops, competition, trophies - all these symbols and activities have nothing to do with Marian devotion.