Urban poor dwellers marched in the Philippine capital Manila on Wednesday, December 15, to reenact the Holy Family’s search for lodging in a traditional Christmas street play dubbed “Panunuluyan.”
This year’s event, however, turned “political” as the marchers trooped to the office of the country’s vice president, Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, to show support for her candidacy in next year’s elections.
The marchers carried pink Christmas stars, known in the country as “parol,” to symbolize the star of Bethlehem that appears in the nativity story of the Gospel. Pink is Robredo’s campaign color.
In the Gospel story, the star supposedly inspired the wise men, or the three kings, to travel to Jerusalem in search of the Child Jesus.
“Like the wise men, we are choosing a leader that will help the Philippines restore genuine democracy and participation,” said Jeorgie Tenolete, head of the urban poor group Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran ng Baseco.
She said urban poor dwellers were hit the hardest by the pandemic, “not just by the virus itself but by the underlying results of the lockdown.”
Tenolete said the strict health restrictions “brought about losses of income and jobs, health, education insecurity, and vulnerability to human rights abuses.”
“Filipinos were asked to stay home, but the government continued to evict poor families while in lockdown,” she said, adding that this year’s “Panunuluyan” will “symbolize people’s voice that we can make change happen through unity and participation in the May 2022 elections.”
She said that despite the challenges being encountered by poor communities, the “Panunuluyan” provides them with “inspiration and hope that we can make it through just like the birth of Baby Jesus.”
The dramatization of the search for lodging called “Panunuluyan” is a Philippine version of a Mexican Christmas tradition that dates back to the 16th century.
Traditionally, the “panunuluyan,” meaning “in search of lodging,” a dramatic ritual narrating the Holy Family’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem for Jesus Christ’s birth, is done on Christmas Eve.
The urban poor’s version is a dramatization of their own search for homes, peace, and a decent life.
The street play becomes a platform for the poor to express their concerns on the “normalization of violence, disruption of community harmony, and the growing culture of fear” amidst the Philippine government’s war against illegal drugs.
Father Robert Reyes, who is known for his advocacy for the urban poor, said the “Panunuluyan” of Mary and Joseph “continues to this day.”
“Many people are still homeless or have no permanent homes or security in their homes, like the couple Mary and Joseph,” he said.
“This Christmas, some poor people have no roofs over their heads, so we continue to advocate for it because we know that housing rights are human rights,” said the priest.
The priest said that as the world faces the challenges of climate change, “people need a place to live, just like now that we are in the pandemic, people need homes.”
Alice Murphy, executive director of the non-government Urban Poor Associates, said the “Panunuluyan” is the poor’s “way of showing that the COVID-19 or the restrictions will never stop the voices of the poor.”
“We are all here to defend human rights and call for decent housing for the poor. We believe we must now speak out on behalf of the many who are suffering in our communities,” said Murphy.
Data from the World Bank show that at least two million more Filipinos became poor in 2020 due to reduced household income and disrupted business activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.