Each year, Filipinos mark Holy Week by holding parades and pilgrimages to important churches and shrines. However, as they performed this act of penitence last Thursday, they left behind a trail of trash in their wake-- as they do every year. A local NGO is speaking out about this “holitrash”.

An estimated 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholic which means that this archipelago, which was colonised by Spain, has Asia's largest Catholic population.

Each year, Filipinos hold large parades during the Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter Sunday when Catholics are supposed to show devotion to their faith and penitence for their sins. However, our Observer, Aileen Lucero, the national coordinator of an environmental advocacy group called EcoWaste Coalition, noticed some rather unholy behavior from these devotees.

The ground was littered with trash after penitents visited Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo City, Philippines. (All photos taken on April 14, 2017 and published by EcoWaste Coalition.)

Trash covers the ground as penitents visit Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo City, Philippines. (All photos taken on April 14, 2017 and published by EcoWaste Coalition.)

“We call it holitrash”


On Holy Thursday, many Filipino Catholics travel by foot to specific holy sites. We call this alay lakad, or penitential walks. Whole families attend. They bring food and blankets and often hold vigils that last all night.

Thousands of people take part in these walks. And, as they walk, they litter. We call it “holitrash”.

I find it incredible-- they litter while they are supposed to be walking in penitence for their sins!

All the trash accumulates. You can see mounds of trash all along the roads leading up to the churches as well as by the churches themselves. The Philippines does have a law that promises sanctions for littering, but it is never actually actually enforced. Especially not at this kind of parade, where authorities are mostly concerned with security. [Editor’s note: Local press reported that policemen, navy, local officials and a rescue ambulance were all on hand during the event].

Penitents at an overnight vigil rest amongst trash at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo City, Philippines. (All photos taken on April 14, 2017 and published by EcoWaste Coalition.)

Bottles littered the ground after penitents visited Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo City, Philippines. (All photos taken on April 14, 2017 and published by EcoWaste Coalition.)

“The pilgrims just shrug their shoulders if you ask them to stop littering”

I went with a few members of my organisation to two main pilgrimage sites: Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo City, Rizal Province and the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan Province at around 4am on Good Friday [April 14, 2016], when devotees were just starting to leave after their all-night vigil.

The trash was so bad that it was honestly like an open dump. We saw disposable diapers, cigarette butts, spoons, forks, food leftovers, newspapers and blankets. And so many food wrappers!

The ground was littered with trash after penitents visited Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Antipolo City, Philippines. (All photos taken on April 14, 2017 and published by EcoWaste Coalition.)

Throughout the event, the church made periodic announcements over its public address system asking people to please take their trash with them when they left…. but people weren’t listening. We went up to a few pilgrims who we saw littering to remind them of the spirit of the season and they’d just shrug their shoulders.

On Good Friday, teams of street sweepers came at 6am to clear the trash. This operation is so expensive that four local governments have to contribute.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”

The Holy Week isn’t the only time we see trash build up in Manila. Filipinos tend to go outside to have fun on holidays, so whenever there is a holiday, there is always holiday trash.

I think we could improve the situation if the organizers of these events provided waste bins and toilets for participants. But people should also be mindful. They should use plates and silverware that they can take home and wash and take their waste with them.

“We hope that pilgrims will mind their trash next time, and embrace the saying ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ to heart, especially when they carry out penitential acts,” the EcoWaste Coalition said on its blog.