Photo by Kristine Buenavista

A Janitor Named “Hudas”

By kristine buenavista

There was no hesitation when Pablo Hayacon invited me inside their home.

My bare feet felt instantly comfortable with the rough, cemented floor. There were old photos scattered in the dim corners of the house, laminated and framed. Objects owned by members of Pablo’s family—pairs of children’s shoes bought from the ukay-ukay, stacked school notebooks, a very old TV set covered by malong, and some sling bags hanging on the side—were placed on a makeshift furniture where three religious figures were found.

I felt instantly comfortable inside as I watched Pablo with pride. After all, I was inside the very place which served as a sanctuary to their neighbors when Typhoon Yolanda struck.

“Ining amon lang balay ang wala naguba sang bagyo. Nagpangamuyo guid ako sang hugot samtang nagadulos ang hangin.”

[Our house was the only house that was never destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda. I prayed my heart out as the wind blew fiercely.]

A Janitor Named "Hudas" - Project Iloilo
Photo by Kristine Buenavista

I saw the room where Pablo and his family slept at night. From the naked eye, the room is nothing more than a thin mattress inlaid with cartoony covers, placed in some dark space. From Pablo’s heart though, this room meant more. There, he rested after each day’s hard work.

“16 na ako ka tuig nga janitor sa aton banwa. Indi pa ako regular nga empleyado, ti amu nga medyo kabudlay paiguon ang adlaw-adlaw nga kinitaan. Pito ang akon kabataan—ang duwa may pangabuhi na, pero ang lima ara pa sa amon puder tanan kag mga magagmay pa.

[I’ve been working as a ‘job hire’ janitor in our municipality for 16 years. What I earn is not enough for our daily needs. We have seven children—two of them are already leading their lives, but five are still under our care and support.]

When not sweeping around the public market, Pablo earns money by being a kargador; he’d carry sacks of rice on his back. On some months, he’d climb mango trees to wrap fruits with old newspapers for extra income. While doing so one day, Pablo fell down and hurt his neck so bad. The pain was so excruciating that he thought he would die within the succeeding days.

A Janitor Named "Hudas" - Project Iloilo
Photo by Kristine Buenavista

However, he spent one of those days in prayer—he surrendered his pain to the Milagrosa and sought healing. After three days, the pain was completely gone and he felt energized again.

That is when Pablo promised to be Judas Iscariot during the Pagtaltal in our hometown, Barotac Viejo. It has become his panata.

“Kay si Hudas, li-og man ang naligto.”

[Because Judas also suffered through his neck.]

A Janitor Named "Hudas" - Project Iloilo
Photo by Kristine Buenavista

He has been portraying ‘Hudas’ for almost 10 years now.  There is devotion in his eyes when he talked about how he started walking this path. As a young boy, he has already dreamed of becoming part of the Pagtaltal, but he never expected to take on one of the most challenging roles: as the man who betrayed and sold out Jesus, and who later hung himself to death because of remorse.

“Sa akon panata, gatu-o ako nga ini nagabulig pamag-an sa amon pangabuhi. Ang hugot namon nga pagpati kag ang paghalad ko sang akon kaugalingon, nagapahilway sa amon mga problema sa pamilya. Ginapabugal kag nasuportahan ako nila. Kaisa galing, namangkot ako ka anak ko nga-a gapalaba ako bungot kung manug-cuaresma!”

[I believe that my vow has helped our family so much—I feel that as I surrender myself to the Almighty, we stay protected from problems and suffering. My family has been proud of what I do. They have supported me all the way, but sometimes one of my kids finds it odd that I intentionally grow my beard for my role as Judas every Lent!]

When asked what he would constantly feel about when portraying the role, he shared that there would always be bitterness in his heart. He could feel the betrayal. He could feel the guilt.

Pablo can look you in the eye and tell you how being Judas meant so much to him. In 2011, an unfortunate incident happened. Out of an intense willingness to make his role more realistic, he did not use any supporting harnesses on his body.

He hung himself up in a tree, choked, and passed out for minutes.

“Sa akon pag-umpaw, daku ang akon pasalamat kay indi ko sarang bayaan ang akon pamilya. Makalulu-oy sila tanan kung madula na ako.”

[As I regained consciousness, I was so grateful that I was still alive. I couldn’t leave my family. They need me.]

His family kept him going.

A Janitor Named "Hudas" - Project Iloilo
Photo by JP Lorica

I’ve seen Pablo sweep the streets. Sometimes, we’d share a high-five when I see him beside the parked dump truck. I’ve always admired his positive disposition in life. I’ve always felt kindred with his love for the family.

“Handum ko nga mapa-eskwela maayo ang akon mga kabataan. Tani makakita ako sang maayo nga palangitan-an para makatapos sila guid. Ginapangamuyo ikaayong lawas sang akon pamilya.”

[It is my dream to send my kids to school until they graduate. I always pray for our health and well-being.]

He has been very expressive about his faith in God; he has also been expressive of his power to heal himself and others. He told me stories of sensing people’s sickness and, to give them relief, praying over them.

A Janitor Named "Hudas" - Project Iloilo
Photo by Kristine Buenavista

In small towns, people like Pablo are sometimes judged as foolish. Listening to him reminded me of my own mental and spiritual journey, about the fascinating and liberating law of attraction, and the healing experience of honoring the sacredness of my goosebumps or, as my dear friend Elle called it, ‘God-bumps’.

Looking into the certainty of his eyes brought me back to those young years of listening to my grandparents as they pray for good harvest; of listening to friends who are so in love with life, or just with the idea of love itself.

The day I visited Pablo with my cousins and siblings, he showed us the river in their purok. He hurried to a nearby garden and got us some fresh turmeric.

“Para maprotektahan kamo kay bag-ohanon kamo sa suba.”

[These can protect you because you are visiting the river for the first time.]

We all took off our slippers and dipped our feet through the cooling waters. Pablo’s children and nieces played with my cousins and siblings. We all shared the food we brought with us. It did not matter that we did not plan on even wading through a river.

As the children swam and giggled, as the carabaos seemed to marvel at us amused, Pablo dove into the deeper part of the water and rose up smiling.

I felt happy for all of us.

In my heart, I prayed that life will stay kind to him and his family, and that whatever differences and similarities we have, we’d continuously share this positive energy every time we meet somewhere.

Even if it’s just to share a high-five.

Kristine Buenavista is the Co-Founder and Self-development Program Facilitator of Alima Community. She is constantly stalking the slow life.