Mural depicting Nativity scene in Bulacan draws flak for featuring images of politicians

December 11, 2020 - 8:04 PM
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Mural in Bulacan
Officials posing in front of a mural in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan in this photo uploaded by SJDM Public Information Office on Dec. 2, 2020. (Photo from SJDM Public Information Office via Facebook)

Filipinos pointed out that the Nativity scene should be the focus of the mural seen in a city in Bulacan following criticisms of its portrayal that included images of politicians.

The mural was spotted in the newly-inaugurated convention center of San Jose del Monte City which featured its local officials, particularly Mayor Arthur Robes and his wife Rep. Florida Robes, the city’s representative in the Congress.

The Robes couple’s depiction in the artwork was more prominent compared to the images of biblical characters, including Mary and Joseph, seen on the lower left part.

However, instead of the actual faces of the biblical characters, the images of other city local officials dressed to portray the characters were seen on the mural.

Apart from those, there was also an image of President Rodrigo Duterte seen on the upper left part, gesturing his signature fist bump.

The mural also featured representatives of the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, the artwork drew criticisms from Filipinos online who accused the local officials of being “epal,” a Filipino term for grandstanding, usually referring to politicians.

In light of this, a Twitter user reminded government officials that the next election is still two years away.

The city’s public information office (PIO) released a statement following the backlash over the artwork.

“The event represented a major milestone for San Jose Del Monte City because it gave international recognition to the hard work and commitment to the faith of San Joseños with the leadership Rep. Rida and Mayor Arthur,” the statement quoted by reports read.

In a Facebook comment, the San Jose Del Monte PIO responded to a critic noting that the entire mural also featured people who helped in the construction of the convention center such as Sen. Nancy Binay and Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar.

Another report mentioned the statement of the camp of the Robes couple.

The report said that the mural “was the artist’s rendition of the reenactment of the Nativity in 2019 where more than 2,000 people participated.”

“That event, held during the Tanglawan Festival, won for San Jose del Monte the Guinness World Record in 2019 for having the ‘most number of living figures in a Nativity scene,'” Inquirer’s report read.

It reported that a total of 2,101 residents have previously joined the staging of the living Nativity in December 2019, breaking the 2016 record held by the Calne Town Council and Bible Society in the United Kingdom with 1,254 participants.

Following the explanation, some Filipinos said that the mural must “focus” on the subject of the Nativity if it was meant to be its rendition.

“Where’s the Nativity scene in the mural?” a Facebook user asked.

“Kasama na pala sa Nativity scene ang mga politiko,” commented another online user in response to the rendition.

“Dapat ang Nativity ang main subject ng mural, ‘di ‘yung mga kapalmukha na epal,” wrote a different Filipino.

“Nasaan ang Nativity scene diyan? Dapat ‘yun ang focus,” commented another Facebook user.

City information officer Ronald Soriano said that the artwork,  called “The Rising City Mural,” intends to “depict the lives of San Joseños and it was not a religious piece of art.”

“[The mural] is a visual representation of the two Guinness World Records awarded to the city government (the largest lantern parade and the most living figures in a Nativity scene), placing the city [on] the world map,” he said to Inquirer.

“The mural also illustrates St. Joseph as the patron saint of San Joseños, St. Padre Pio, various local churches, and the Rising Heart that strengthens the faith and resiliency of San Joseños,” Soriano added.

Father Arvin Ray Jimenez, the assistant priest of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Bulacan, was also quoted as saying that the artwork was supposed to “remind the public of the Guinness event in the city last year.”

Notes on the Nativity 

The Nativity scene is a representation of Jesus Christ’s birth from a combination of several Biblical texts, according to Catholic.org.

It features Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, some animals, the shepherds and the three wise men.

Jesus is found at the center of the scene, being “in the main role of the Nativity.”

The Nativity scene was said to be originally conceived by St. Francis of Assisi, when he sought permission from Pope Honorious III in 1223 to do something “for the kindling of devotion” to the birth of Christ.

St. Francis had reportedly “made ready a manger, and bade hay, together with an ox and an ass” in the Italian town of Greccio, according to an article by The Conversation.