GERARD Hababag, an incoming senior Medical Technology student was browsing through television channels on Maundy Thursday when he came upon Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus aired in GMA 7.

“I know it had a moral lesson within its story,” Hababag said. “But it wasn’t something I would have expected to see on television during the Holy Week.”

Who would have? A show about a princess in a pink dress and a flying horse wasn’t something any one would see fit for the solemn observance of the Lenten season.

Since in the 1950’s, it has been customary for television networks to get off the air or to temporarily replace their regular programs with shows containing religious themes during the Eastern Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday). However, other stations like GMA 7 apparently do not any more yield to this tradition.

“It’s inappropriate for the season but, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad,” Fr. Ramon Salibay O.P., director of the Center for Campus Ministry, said. “It still depends upon the discretion of the Catholic viewers if they would find it offensive or not.”

For Salibay a show’s quality should not be judged purely out of its suitability to the season, as content, quality, and the manner of presentation also come into play.

Market value vs. public service

According to an Internet article by journalist Sheila Coronel, the television is on for as long as 16 to 18 hours a day even in poor households. Add the fact that the Philippines is 92.6 percent Catholic, according to the 2000 Philippine Census, Lenten Specials prove to be a profitable venture for television stations during Holy Week.

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“Television stations show religious programs during the Holy Week precisely because they think this is what people need to watch,” Salibay said. “They cater to their demands.”

Regardless of the orientation television networks, most are said to comply only with the perceived tastes of the majority on Holy Week vacation.

“The manner how television networks adapt their programs for the Lenten Season or for any other occasion depends on the taste of the viewers on that particular time,” Crescendo Doma, a sociology professor from the Faculty of Arts and Letters said.

But critics also say that television stations must draw a line between giving what viewers want and what would be helpful to them. GMA-7’s lineup of Holy Week Specials such as Enteng Kabisote, Mulawin the Movie, and I Will Always Love You, for instance had raised some questions. Enteng Kabisote got a very low rating in both technical and moral assessment by the Catholic Initiative for Enlightened Movie Appreciation even when it was released in mainstream moviehouses.

“Lenten programs should be family-oriented, biblical, formative, transformative, and should remind us of our religious and spiritual life,” Salibay said.

Religious but entertaining

But much of this year’s list of Holy Week specials featured entertaining shows that inspire and promote good values. ABS-CBN aired the critically-acclaimed movie Magnifico, on Black Saturday. The film is about a poor, young boy named Magnifico (Jiro Manio), whose innocence and pure heart changed the lives of the people around him. Directed by Maryo De los Reyes, Magnifico won both local and international awards such as the 2004 Gawad Urian best picture and the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival Award with the children’s juries.

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Selected episodes of the drama anthology Maalala Mo Kaya were also aired in ABS-CBN. Bangka, first among the dramatic series, stars Jhong Hilario, Carlo Aquino, and Ketchup Eusebio as three brothers who are separated by poverty and crime in Manila. Santo Niño de Cebu, shown on Good Friday, stars Aiza Marquez, Joel Torre and John Wayne Sace. The episode is about a single father’s frustration about the loss of his wife, and its effect on the raising of the children. Shown on Black Saturday, Poon tells about a child’s resurrection brought about by the undying faith of his parents, played by Joel Torre and Dina Bonnevie. These drama specials featured through unconventional stories highlighted positive Filipino values such as close-family ties, modesty and strong faith in God.

Meanwhile, live telecast of Lenten masses and the Siete Palabras by the Filipino Dominicans at the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City on RPN 9 presented the traditional manner of commemorating the passion and suffering of Christ. With anecdotes narrated by churchgoers and homilies about the pain and suffering of Christ during crucifixion, the parish’s siete palabras added a level of subjectivity to the discussion.

On the other hand, Spiritual Journey, a reality show produced by ABC 5 in cooperation with Jesuit Communications Foundation, Inc., featured eight young adults, four males and four females, with different backgrounds brought together for a three-day retreat at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City. This religious version of Pinoy Big Brother required its participants to face challenges ranging from conquering their fears to writing a commitment letter to the Lord and to someone important to them. Fr. Albert E. Alejo, the rector of the Davao Jesuit Community, and UST alumnus and former Varsitarian staffer, served as retreat master.

Kunin Mo O Diyos, another program produced by ABC 5 and Jescom, is a musical drama featuring the life of Christ. Led by Christian Bautista as Jesus, the star-studded cast included Torre as the narrator, Cooky Chua as Mary, Noel Cabangon as Judas, and Cathy Azanza as Mary Magdalene. The show recounts the life of Christ just before he was crucified through the eyes of his mother, Mary. The show combined narratives and musical renditions in a Philippine setting.

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Meanwhile, Studio 23 featured the Oscar best picture Forest Gump on Maundy Thursday and back-to-back Bible story movies such as Judas and Jesus and The Ten Commandments on Holy Friday.

Innovation played a large part in this year’s list of Holy Week specials, although with some digresses. Most of the shows still followed the formula of combining inspirational, dramatic, and religious elements, presented in a brand new packaging that relate the audience more intimately to shows for the soul.

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