IPA features personal stories of emerging photographers


“Everytime I shoot either in a remote location or any place I am not familiar with, I always ask questions about the things that I do not know. It’s a sign of respect to the people you just met in that place. It’s also a way to educate the self.”


My Visual Story

The Sacrilege in Faith

Jet Rabe

Pampanga, Philippines is a place where, during the Holy Week, you see flagellants walking along the street, whipping their blood-soaked body under the warmth of the sun.  Despite Catholic church’s rejection of this idea, people who practice the acts believe that this is a form of salvation and expression of faith in God.

The Sacrilege in Faith is a visual story based on the personal experience of emerging Manila-based photographer Jet Rabe, who spent a couple of days in the barrio of Sta. Cruz in Porac, Pampanga where a group of men who call themselves kunsilyu observe the Holy Week through an act called pamagsalibatbat (flagellation). One of these, a resident named Rolly Catacutan, who is the leader of the group shares his story of healing and redemption as a magdarame (flagellant) for 14 years and serves as the “Nazareno”. Wearing a burgundy-colored vestment with his face covered,  he leads the group at dawn in Pulung Maba where hundreds prepare their body for self-mutilation while they chant their prayers before pamagparaya (slashing the back to open up the wound when whipped). Jet Rabe was a witness to this.

Barrio Sta.Cruz resident Rolly Catacutan starts the ritual with a chant of prayer in front of the group of Magdarame at dawn in the Pulung Maba, Porac, Pampanga.

What is your overall experience with the Magdarame ritual?

For the longest time, I have been intrigued by the way how this is happening. In the past, I am only seeing this on television or newspapers. I am a bit shocked and overwhelmed by the experience. And it was a very relevant event for me to shoot and attend because aside from the fact that this was my first time to experience such a ritual, I am seeing myself going back to this place to document their stories.

A magpasyun chants the “dalit” spoken in Kapampangan language which starts on the first day of the Holy Week inside a “puni” (a makeshift chapel). The “dalit” , sung with a tune of what the locals call as “gege” is a 8-syllabi verse under a 5-verse stanza. The locals alternately chant this for 24-hours non-stop during the Holy Week.

What are the things that you considered and thought about when you started photographing these people?

In all honest, I am not familiar with the subjects. But every time I shoot either in a remote location or any place I am not familiar with, I always ask questions about the things that I do not know. It’s a sign of respect to the people you just met in that place. It’s also a way to educate the myself.”

A magdarame” prepares his mask to cover his face. The covering, according to this specific “magdarame” is a way not to distract people’s attention on the specificity of the person. And also, to focus on the act and the methods to redemption.

What was your focus in the documentary? What did you find out with this?

Rolly Catacutan.  He has been participating in this ritual for the last 14 years.  I found out that the reason why he holds back on doing this is because he had a crippled daughter that he thought was a hopeless case.  Since he commenced doing the annual ritual as the “Nazareno”, her daughter, little by little was able to walk.  Call it faith and miracle, he thinks that his annual devotion to this act resulted in a healing spiritually and physically.

Rolly Catacutan lays flat on the ground as he chants his prayer as a stop over along several “puni”.

A magdarame” chants his prayers over this secluded and open rice fields. According to him, he prays for guidance and strength in order to overcome the physical pain that he needs to endure for the rest of the day.

What is the reason why you prefer that look and treatment in showing them in photographs?

I always shoot spontaneously because I trust that there are random moments that cannot be staged or repeated.  In doing my personal documentary, I am constantly aware of when to tell my subject to look at my camera, thus making them conscious as well as when I shoot them like an invisible spectator where they do things unaware of a camera sneaking through.

“Pamagparaya” (making the line comes out of the skin at the back by wounding) This is the act where the muscles near the spine are cut with sharp blades to open the skin and makes the blood flow when struck with the “palaspas” (whipping rod).

How important is photography in showing this particular subject?

Photography is a very powerful tool for explaining things to us. If you run out of words to describe what’s happening in a particular moment, showing a photo helps create a visual image, thus, a visual message.

A “magdarame” stops and spreads himself flat facing the ground. From the start of their walk towards the final church, every “puni” (a makeshift chapel) serves as a prayer ground for many “magdarame” to repent.

More than a hundred “magdarame” paraded the street of the barrio of Sta. Cruz, Porac which, according to Rolly Catacutan is the biggest group consistently doing this annually in the province of Pampanga. Most of the people are involved in this act are interrelated as most of them came from the same barrio and family clan.