When I was a boy, I’ve been hearing stories from my Tondo elders (mother side) that in the early 70s, a terrible typhoon struck Manila. Several people perished. Tondo was hit the hardest, and the catastrophe was attributed to a shocking theft: the stealing of the centuries-old image of the Santo Niño De Tondo.
Although part of my childhood, I never gave much attention to the image during the few times that we visited the church (although it’s just a few minutes away from our place in Calle Padre Rada). I wasn’t reared to become a fervent Catholic. And the image is high up in the altar, encased in glass.
Thanks to the Internet, we are now able to examine it in full detail: the image, shipped from México in the early 1570s, is carved from ivory and is adorned with diamonds on its bronze crown with a larger one attached to its forehead. The cross on top of its silver scepter is bedecked with rubies. A closer look at the image will reveal its intricate sculpture — even baby teeth on the mouth is exposed! It somehow revealed the meticulous sculptor’s intent to portray a smiling Child Jesus.
I did some research and found out that the grand theft happened on 14 July 1972. And I was surprised to find out that there was not one but two supertyphoons at that time: Phyllis and Rita. These two typhoons wreaked havoc all over the city, putting 90% of Manila under floodwaters! Although it was already raining before the robbery, the tempest intensified on the day of the crime. Even during bad weather, investigators were in hot pursuit. They were finally able to capture the four robbers. It turned out that they dismembered the image. The main body was dumped on a roadside canal while the rest were in the possession of other members of the group. All valuable parts were recovered.
Then President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the immediate restoration of the defiled image; famous sculptor Máximo Vicente was assigned to do the difficult task. A thanksgiving Mass was held in Malacañang Palace afterwards.
When the image was returned to its home in Tondo Church, the rains miraculously dissipated.
Hindí palá si Asiong Salonga ang hari ng Tondo. 😂