MANILA, Philippines - After President Aquino and all other VIPs left the Rizal Park, flocks of men and women dressed in white queued in front of the Rizal Monument. They took turns offering flowers, songs and poems to the person they call "God."
Songs sung at the foot of the Rizal monument also have lines calling out to "Rizal, our God."
Loosely called the Rizalistas, these groups of Rizal worshippers go by many names, but all similarly believe that Rizal is far more than a hero - he is God.
"Kami po ay kumikilala kay Abang Doktor Jose Rizal, na ang pagkakakilala sa kanya, si Hesus at si Rizal, pawang iisa. Dino-Diyos namin siya na kagaya rin ni Kristo," explained Eduardo Mariano, a member of the sect Samahan ng Banal na Angkan Katipunan KKK. His group claims to have members in Ilocos, Manila and Hawaii.
Meanwhile, Rene Samuya, member of another Rizal-worshipping sect named Iglesia Watawat ng Lahi, said they both see Jesus Christ and Rizal as saviors of humankind.
"Kung si Hesus ay Hesukristo, manunubos sa pagkakasala, si Dr. Jose Rizal naman, siya rin ay isang manunubos, sa pagka-alipin ng ating bansa, tinatawag naming siyang Jose Kristo. Kaya dalawa po ang Kristo ngayon, ang tinatawag na Hesukristo, at Jose Kristo," Samuya said.
Groups like these are regularly part of the Rizal Day celebrations, regarded by some as novelty, while appreciated by others for their tireless dedication to the national hero, albeit in more extreme terms.
Mariano wishes that Rizal would look kindly upon their yearly gesture.
"Harinawa ay naging kaaya-aya at kalugud-lugod sa ating Panginoon, o sa ating amang Bathala Doktor Jose Rizal at iba pang mga bayani ang ating ginagawa na pag-alala sa kanilang kadakilaan," he said.
But as sect upon sect fell in line to worship Jose Rizal, one man dressed like a "guwardiya sibil" sat patiently near the flag, carrying three dozen roses.
Unlike the rest, Loreto Sancho came alone.
Unlike the others, he doesn't see Rizal as God. He sees Rizal as the most intelligent of all human beings and believes he is Rizal's grandson.
"Binili ko yan sa probinsya. Dun sa may Laguna," he said, pointing to the roses beside him. "Alam ko kasi mahal na mahal ni Lolo ko yung rose na yan."
Asked why he referred to Rizal as Lolo, Sancho indignantly said, "Hindi ba obvious?"
He paused, until the news team acknowledged his hairstyle, which was cut and parted like Rizal's.
But the crowd at Rizal Park this morning wasn't all made up of Rizal worshippers and die-hard fans. Families and groups of friends also mingled with the groups, taking breaks from their morning stroll to take their selfies in front of the national hero's shrine.
Gerald Bragil and his group of motorcycle enthusiast buddies were also there to take their group photo at the monument.
"Hindi naman po dapat siyang kalimutan kasi pinagtanggol po niya ang ating bayan," he said.