Being harassed under the guise of faith
We were coming up to the Cathedral from the Marikina side. A kilometer away from the cathedral, there were men and boys by the road making the Thai "thank you" sign (both hands clasped in front) and running after vehicles. Of course it struck us that they were making the "praying" sign but my passengers and I could not agree on exactly what it was they were offering. Surely they were not doing it as a form of touristy welcome. I thought these people made a living out of taking commissions from vehicle blessings (this is the church of the Lady of Good Voyage after all and many owners of brand new cars go up to the Cathedral to have their car blessed there).
There was this guy who ran all the way down the hill following our vehicle up to the steps of the cathedral - a very exhausting physical work out! When we got out of the car, he approached us and asked us to buy pasalubong from a certain store (Lengleng's Pasalubong Stall). All that running just to get customers to buy a few hundred bucks worth of kasuy (cashew nuts)! Whew! Either life is really, truly hard or the pasalubongs items are way overpriced to warrant hefty commissions for their running salesmen. And interesting aside on the stuff they sell at Antipolo: most of the things they sell there (except for Ibus, the suman wrapped in coconut leaves) are brought up from Manila, so the whole thing does not make sense. Think about it. You buy stuff up a mountain to bring down to Manila, when these stuff were originally from Manila anyway.
The running salesman was not the highlight of that trip though. That kind of commercialism paled in comparison to the kind of shameless harassment that the sellers of religious icons and flowers (jasmine garlands) use on hapless churchgoers.
When we got out of the vehicle, we were automatically besieged by all types of vendors selling all types and makes of religious stuff. Before we knew it, we had all kinds of icons, medals, anting-anting, and other ornaments hanging from our clothes. Somehow, they were able to pin these things on our clothes. Some were hanging from our hands - they would touch our hands and press these things on to us. Years of Catholic upbringing have conditioned us to think that dropping religious images is sacriligeous so of course we had to return them nicely.
The vendors were demanding that we pay for them, nicely at firs, then becoming more insistent, and finally being pushy and threatening. Imagine that! I thought this kind of harassment only happens in Quiapo. What was really annoying was that old women who looked truly devout and wearing religious garments were the more brazen. Some of them even faked the way they stooped, would say a prayer, or would beg in eerie voices capable of spooking even the most hardened person.
The same hellish situation met us inside the pasalubong center and on our way back to the vehicle. It was like an eerie obstacle course - only we could not jump over people or callously cast them aside.
I know people have a right to make a living, but for crying out loud, must they employ harassment? And around a holy place at that! It was enough to make us swear not to come back to the Cathedral. This was really too bad because Antipolo is such a great place to journey to, both metaphorically and physically.