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Bay, the lake’s padrino (Bay, La Laguna)

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Later Tagalog arrivals would sail up the Pásig to Laguna de Baí, on whose shores would rise their bailiwicks and colonies. Their capital was the town of Baí; and so all this lake country —and the lake itself— became known as Baí. —Nick Joaquín—

It’s not unusual for married couples to be on a huff with one another. Well, that’s what happened to me and Yeyette last month (11/06/2010) when we attended the birthday of a friend who lives in a residential area for military peeps in Ciudad de Taguig. You know, the usual tampuhan. And it’s funny because, although we’ve been together for more than a decade, and already with four kids, we still behave —and quarrel— as if we’re college sweethearts, haha! Not that I’m complaining. I even think it’s better that way. Perhaps it keeps us young. I don’t know. Sometimes, I do feel that we’re going over the edge. But at the end of the day, the crumples on our shirts are always ironed out (I’m trying to invent an idiomatic expression here; hope that one’s not yet patented).

Sayang, Myla, ¡hindí man lang acó nalasíng! =)

So how did I fix the mess?

We were both silent in the jeepney on our way home after the birthday party (say… that rhymes!). It was already early dawn (11/07/2010). To break the ice, I nonchalantly suggested to her that because it was still dark, perhaps we could stroll in Bay, La Laguna for a while so as not to disturb our four kids and their yaya who were still sleeping. And also for us to have a breath of fresh air (and I have not yet blogged about that town, LOL!). I honestly never expected her to say yes, although the traveler in me had wanted such a reply. I just wanted her to speak up. Silence is so awkward for lovers who have a misunderstanding.

Surprisingly, she answered: “¿Gaano ba calayo yon? (How far is it?)”. That was an indication that everything was getting OK, hehe!

Fortunately for us, the jeepney driver, who was driving all night long, lives in Santa Rosa, La Laguna. And he was raring to go home that dawn. That’s why we didn’t have to transfer from one jeep to another.

We reached Santa Rosa shortly after six in the morning. We took another jeep going to nearby Calambâ where we got off to a jeepney terminal situated in a crowded place which Calambeños call “Crossing”. We had to wait for our jeep (going to San Pablo, La Laguna) to be filled up with passengers before going to Bay. In a matter of minutes, we were already zooming through the highway surrounded by spectacular views of mountains and greenery.

Bay is the town right after Calambâ and Los Baños. It used to be the capital of the whole province of La Laguna. But the capitolio was later moved to Santa Cruz.

The jeepney driver dropped us right in front of the church. We were just a few minutes late for the 7 AM mass.

Iglesia de Bay

The church is dedicated to one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all time: Saint Augustine of Hippo Regius (in present-day Algeria). He is, incidentally, the patron saint I chose when I reconverted to the Catholic faith a few years back. He, too, was a convert to Catholicism, having lived a hedonistic life in his youth. Well, it’s not that I had lived the same life he had experienced. But he was a sinner before he became a saint, not unlike most Catholic saints that we have who had lived chaste lives throughout most of their existence.

Iglesia de Bay, La Laguna

The first church was founded by Augustinian monks in 1571 led by Fr. Martín de Rada (an off-on-a-tangent trivia: my mom grew up in a street in Tondo named after this friar). It was made of nipa and bamboo in a place called Aplaya, a corrupted Tagalog version of the Spanish la playa meaning “beach”. This means that the first church made of wood used to be in front of Laguna de Bay. It became a full-fledged parish on 30 April 1578. Being the founders of the church and the Christianized town, it was only natural for the Augustinians to administer Bay. One hundred fifty-nine years later, it was transferred to the care of the Franciscans. The patron saint and the church’s name, however, remained Augustinian.

In 1804, the church was transferred to its present site in the the población or town proper. The new church was made of stone and was supervised by Fr. Gerónimo Hervas. The construction was finally completed after 60 years, but a strong earthquake in 1880 destroyed its roofing. In 1884, Fr. Jesús Lillo had it restored. The restoration work was finished by Fr. Celestino de los Huertos in 1889.

All these restorations and constructions were put to naught during World War II. Sadly, the church and its accompanying convent were completely wiped out. Eight years after the war, Fr. Alejandro Vermorel resurrected the Parish Church of Saint Augustine. He had the façade patterned after the architectural styles of the Early Renaissance period. It was simple in design, with a semicircular door and window openings. The church’s pediment is also adorned with a circular window in its tympanum.

The church’s interiors are very modest. Not surprising since the original church was destroyed by brimstone and fire due to man’s folly (i.e., war). Aside from a chapel dedicated to the Divine Mercy apparition, it has nothing stunning to offer, architecture wise. Even the retablo is not that “loud” with design if one is to compare it with other antique Philippine churches. But the faithful, particularly its senior womenfolk, are a sight to behold: many of them still wear veils on top of their crowns. That’s the way it really should be with female churchgoers regardless of age.

A view of the church's nave and altar from the entrance.

Bay's lady folk selling religious items by the church door.

The church's modest chapel dedicated to the famous Divine Mercy apparition.

Chapel of Saint Augustine. It is attached to the church outside.

A mass was being held that Sunday morning when we arrived (6:00 AM).

Inside the chapel of Saint Augustine, smoked by brightly colored candles.

Bay church's north transept. Notice the initials of the town's patron saint embedded at the top of each buttress.

Handsomely designed circular wood ceiling right above the altar.

The faithful of Bay. Me and Yeyette noticed that many female churchgoers here (mostly the elderly) are still wearing veils on top of their heads. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Bay Church's bell tower. I failed to climb this because one has to pass through the choirloft. In this church, there is a sign that strictly prohibits non-choir members to go up the choirloft. Aside from that, a mass was going on.

Población

The town proper, with its narrow roads and small stalls, somehow reminds me of Unisan. The only difference is that Bay is bustling with vehicular energy, not to mention noise. Its because its main thoroughfare serves as an entrepot between Los Baños, Victoria, Pila, and other lakeshore towns of La Laguna province.

Petness First (not the gym).

Yeyette enjoying "Monay Bae". "Bae" is another variant of the name "Bay". "Monay" is a local bread.

Bay's main road.

Municipal hall.

Yeyette with <em>Aling</em> Siony (Asunción Señadoza), owner of the most popular eatery in the <em>población</em>, very near the church.

Bahay na bató

We also noticed that there are a few Filipino houses, commonly known as bahay na bató, in Bay. If the town church was profaned by bombs, guns, and fire during the last war, obviously the rest of the town burned down with it. And of those very few old Filipino homes we found, only two stood out: The Marfori and Peláez ancestral homes. Unfortunately, we have not gathered much information about these two handsome houses. There’s not even a soul inside the Marfori house, this according to the people around it.

Casa Marfori. It is the oldest ancestral house in town, one of the few which survived the last war. For a time, it also served as a pharmacy, thus the words "Farmacia Marfori" painted on the façade that has already fainted trough the years.

The Marfori house's red-tiled roof is still intact — a rarity nowadays among antique Filipino homes.

Casa Peláez.

Casa Peláez from another angle.

A view of Casa Marfori's façade taken right in front of its neighbor, Casa Peláez.

Yeyette asking some residents about the two old houses' (Marfori and Peláez) history. They said that the deceased matriarch of the Peláez house was Spanish-speaking. But of course; it shows in the house itself.

Feeling history first hand — literally!

Wifey found some old bricks in the walls of Casa Marfori!

Another bahay na bató; (probably postwar), said to be owned by a former town mayor. This one stands on Bay's main highway.

Laguna de Bay

Our journey around Bay would not have been complete without a short stop to the lake —the largest in the Philippines— whose name was taken from the town itself.

It was the Spanish conquistadores led by Juan de Salcedo and some Augustinians who renamed this trilobate lake after the town of Bay (sometimes spelled as “Baé” or “Ba’i”). Renamed, because it has been called “Tadlác ng Ba’i” by its Tagalog-speaking settlers before the white men arrived. Or maybe “translated” is the better term instead of “renamed” because “laguna de Bay” and “tadlác ng Ba’i” have the same meaning, anyway.

Laguna de Bay, being trilobate, is composed of the west bay, east bay, and central bay. Isla de Talím, the largest of the lake’s nine islands and which is very visible to the town of Bay (from Barrio San Antonio), is right between the west and central bay.

But why did the Spaniards named the lake after Bay? Why not Laguna de Tabuco, or Laguna de Pinagsañgahán (Pagsanján), or some place else? It’s because Bay was then the largest settlement along the lake. It was large enough to attract Chinese merchants who were docked in Bahía de Manila. They sailed through the then crocodile-infested waters of Pásig River and the menacing Paso Diablo (or the “Devil’s Pass”, Laguna de Bay’s deepest part which is near Alabang, Ciudad de Muntinlupà) just to trade with the Tagalog tribesmen of Bay. After the trade, these Chinese go back to Manila bay, bringing with them boatloads of forest products.

This trade between the Chinese in Manila Bay and the first folk of Bay, by the way, will also help explain why Tondoc (now the Manila district of Tondo) and Santa Ana de Sapa (now the Manileño district of Santa Ana) were major ports during that time. That trade was a vital factor as to why these two places were populous when the Spaniards led by Miguel López de Legazpi (Salcedo’s grandfather) arrived. Bay, in a way, had a hand in it. =) As a matter of fact, Bay, for a time, was even considered a part of the old Kingdom of Namayan whose capital was in Santa Ana de Sapa.

a lovely view of rice fields on our to the lake of Bay (commonly known as Laguna de Bay).

Barrio; San Antonio is a barangáy; right beside the lake of Bay.

A fishpond! The lake is near!

Laguna de Bay

She thinks that she will never see, a living thing as gigantic as this narra tree!

Isla de Talím in the distance. According to old Spanish records, this small island in the middle of Laguna de Bay was a very forested area teeming with deer, wild boar, doves, and even giant bats!

The same narra tree whose photo I took earlier. And we noticed that it's roughly five storeys high!

A handsome balete tree!

There's a lamb here in Bay!

Bantáy Laua (lake guardians) Headquarters.

Pulóng Bay; (Bay Islet) can be reached in a matter of minutes. It has a small hut used by fishermen as a resting place.

Yeyette with a bantáy laua officer (to man sitting on the table to her right), taking care of an illegal-fishing case involving the people beside them.

Say no to guns!

Grains of gold!

A river coursing towards the lake.

It was truly an enjoyable morning we had in Bay! We had a wonderful time searching for history, food tripping, and nature tripping. It was a wonderful and unforgettable trip. Sans the motor vehicles, For a “laywoman” like Yeyette, it was educational, as well. And most important of all, little did we know that our petty “lover’s quarrel” dissipated over time! We were like foreigners in another country. We were like kids, even, when we got near the lake and enjoyed its flora!

And because everything was OK between the two of us, we agreed to proceed to Victoria the soonest possible time!

Heck, no. Not the motel. I meant Victoria, La Laguna, the town north of Bay and Calauan. Cayó talagá… We hope to get there (again, Victoria, La Laguna) this month or in January.

Till next time, Filipino eReaders! =)

On the term “pre-Hispanic Philippines”

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When we say “pre-Hispanic” or “pre-Spanish”, it pertains to a period in a particular nation’s history that was not yet colonized by Spain. In the phrase “pre-Hispanic Philippines”, pre-Hispanic is the adjective while Philippines is the proper noun. Looking into the term more closely, the adjective pre-Hispanic is composed of two words: the prefix “pre” (meaning “before”) and the adjective “Hispanic” which relates to, is characteristic of, or is derived from Spain (or Spanish-speaking nations).

In scholarly circles and (most especially) history classes, the term pre-Hispanic Philippines is a by-word. It ascribes to the period either before 16 March 1521 (the coming of Fernando Magallanes) or 27 April 1565 (the coming of Miguel López de Legazpi).

In both dates, historians contend that prior to the advent of the Spaniards, we already have our own culture, our own civilization. They speak as if we were already a nation, as if the concept of the term Filipino was already in existence. That is not even half-truth but a total falsity. The nominative plural pronoun “we” is used here in a rather anachronistic sense. This is because before the coming of the West, there was no Philippines nor Filipinos to speak of. The concept of the Filipino Identity had not yet been perceived (by Philippines we mean the country which we know and speak of today, i.e., all the political and geographical attributes that are comprised of by the Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo regions). What the Spaniards found or discovered in this part of the world which we speak of right now was but a multitude of islands whose inhabitants had been in perpetual war against each other (or either that, had been distrustful of one another). In short, there was no Philippines yet to speak of.

A bigoted nationalism

The trouble with the term pre-Hispanic or pre-Spanish is that it is commonly used by hispanophobic nationalist purists to forward their claims of a mythical and blissful past that was halted and stunted by Spain. The coming here of the West they keep on negating as not Filipino at all, thus the need to come up with such terms as pre-Hispanic and pre-Spanish to describe what they claim as a time when our nation was not yet “invaded” and ruled by a “foreign” nation.

But then, if the Tagalogs, Pampangueños, etc. all migrated here from neighboring Malay islands (using ancient boats called barangáy or balañgáy), then aren’t they considered foreigners, too? It is because this archipelago we speak of is not their native soil anymore if they are from other lands. In this case, the definition of the term “foreign” fades into oblivion. But that is another story.

When the Spaniards arrived in this part of the world, they forged the myriad of islands which they discovered into one, single, and compact nation. Thus, it is also safe to assume that their incumbency here, including everything else they disseminated into our culture (as astutely observed by Arnaldo Arnáiz), ceased to be Spanish but Filipino. Take, for example, the stately architecture of the bahay na bató. Misled nationalists claim that it is merely a Spanish-style house or —worse— a colonial house, but it is not. Although it has influences from Western architecture, it is rudely incorrect to deny that it is not a product of Filipino architecture. Cultural anthropologist Fernando Z. Ziálcita, a fellow member of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino, pointed out that it is first important to distinguish between two types of nationalist discourses in order to appreciate (and eventually realize) Filipino architecture: dialectical and reductionist. Applying his observations (based on undisputable analogies from various cultures), it is best, if not imperative, that we utilize a dialectical approach in studying Philippine history in order to comprehend the nature of our identity.

Thus, when Spain brought here, say, the cuchara and tenedor, they ceased to become anything Spanish but Filipino. When the Spaniards brought here the cooking technique called the guisado, it ceased to become Spanish; it became Filipino. Even Christianity was Filipinized. And so were the Spaniards who were born here — the insulares or creoles, although purely Iberian, were naturally more loyal to their patria chica (Philippines) compared to their patria grande (Spain). In short, although still Spaniards (albeit being born here), they ceased to become Spaniards but Filipinos. And that is why they are called —and should be regarded as— the First Filipinos.

This could go on and on.

In the words of José Miguel García, what Spain bequeathed to us has become part of our so-called “national developmental code”:

Can we exist as a nation without having been born acquiring a unique identity? Could we as a nation have been born without having been conceived? Could we as a nation have been conceived without having parents undergoing through a process of developmental intercourse? There are the Iberians, the natives of a group of islands now known as Filipinas, the North Americans, the Chinese, and the Japanese. Who among these entities could have engaged in a developmental intercourse that resulted to our conception and, finally, birth as a nation as Filipinas? If based on information, we have come to know WHO we really are; if based on information, we have come to know that WHO we really are has been lost; if based on information we know that WHO we really are is our inheritance as part of our national developmental code; then it is our birth right to recover it. But based on information, where can we find our inheritance?

Obviously not from our bleak and dark “pre-Hispanic past”.

Pre-Philippine, not pre-Hispanic

Here then lies the predicament surrounding the term pre-Hispanic Philippines.

If we delete the prefix “pre” from “pre-Hispanic”, what will remain solely is the adjective Hispanic (Hispanic Philippines). But, using Professor Ziálcita’s dialectical approach towards Philippine History as an analogy, there should be no such thing as Hispanic Philippines. It is but incorrect to impose the adjective Hispanic to a nation that had just been born. Although it is true that Spain created our country, upon inception it was not Hispanic anymore but simply Philippine.

Therefore, it is high time we get rid of the term pre-Hispanic Philippines from our historical vocabulary. It should be replaced with the more correct term PRE-PHILIPPINE whenever we refer to events before 1565 or 1521, an obscure era when we were still but a scattered group of heathen islands.

And may we all stop degrading ourselves by looking for a past that was never there.

Tabuco (Cabuyao, La Laguna)

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After our Santa Rosa Easter Sunday walk, Krystal and I proceeded to nearby Cabuyao town.

A handsome bahay na bató across Saint Polycarp Church's south transept.

A long time ago, the northern part of La Laguna province was once a very huge town. It used to comprise what are now known as San Pedro, Biñán, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao, Rizal’s beloved Calambâ, and perhaps areas of today’s Santo Tomás town in Batangas province. This large lakeshore town was then known as Tabuco (usually spelled as Tabuko).

Like in many parts of the pre-Philippine era, Tabuco was then inhabited by people who originated from Malay nations. When Manila was possessed by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1570, he sent his grandson, Juan de Salcedo, to explore these parts of La Laguna de Bay. But the first indio settlement conquered by capitán de Salcedo was the lake’s eastern portion known today as Taytay and Caintâ in the province of Morong (now Rizal province). Afterwards, he and his men crossed the lake and Acherón at Barrio Pinagsañgahán (now known as Pagsanján, La Laguna). They continued inland and conquered the nearby settlements of Nagcarlán and Majayjay, also in La Laguna.

Since the place was already mountainous, the party of de Salcedo went back to the Lake of Bay (or Ba-í) and continued to conquer the lakeshore’s northern settlements. Later on, they anchored along the shores of Tabuco. Just like the settlement of Bay, the Spaniards discovered that Tabuco had large plains and thick forests. Among them who were knowledgeable with agriculture agreed that Tabuco’s climate was also suitable to farm crops.

On 16 January 1571, Miguel López de Legaspi converted Tabuco into an encomienda or a town under the helm of Gaspar Ramírez. The barrios of Malabanan (Biñán), Santa Rosa, and other territories was placed under the administration of the Tabuco government. The boundary to the north was: San Pedro Tunasán (which was also a part of Tabuco; it is now simply known as San Pedro; Tunasán is now a mere barrio or barangáy of Ciudad de Muntinlupà); to the south was the town of Bay (a stone’s throw away from Los Baños); west was Suñgay (now divided into two barrios of Ciudad de Tagaytay, Cavite: Suñgay del Norte and Suñgay del Sur), and; to the east was the Lake of Bay (or Laguna de Bay).

A couple of years later, the barrios which made up Tabuco became independent from the local central government. Barrio San Pedro (my current residence), for instance, became a separate town on 18 January 1725. Biñán, Santa Rosa, etc. followed suit. All that is left of that local government is what we now know as the Municipality of Cabuyao, the town that is sandwiched by the cities of Santa Rosa and Calambâ.

Up to 1997, the people of Cabuyao celebrated 16 January as their town’s feast day. But former Santo Sepulcro (in Landayan, San Pedro) parish priest Monsignor Jerry Bitoon changed it to 23 February which is the feast day of Saint Polycarp.

Inside a jeepney, on our way to Cabuyao from Santa Rosa (04/04/2010).

A Nestlé Philippines plant along Mahárlica Highway is one of Cabuyao's industrial engines. A dear uncle of mine was a top-ranking manager here before he transferred to Malaysia.

National Road/Mahárlica Highway.

True Brown Style!

When Tabuco was transformed into an encomienda, The Order of Missionaries of the Augustinian Recollects arrived. This is, of course, due to the fact that the receiver of the grant (which, in this case, was Ramírez) had the responsibility to protect the indios from warring tribes (and from warring against each other), to teach them the Spanish language, and to Christianize them. A little later, the Augustinian Recollects handed Tabuco over to the Franciscans.

Like most towns, Cabuyao also has its share of legends as to how its name originated. It is said that when the Franciscans arrived by boat, they saw women washing clothes along the lakeshore. They asked these women the name of the place. Due to language barriers, the ladies thought that the friars were asking for the name of the fruit extract that they were then using to wash their clothes. These fruits were from the nearby cabuyao (or cabullao) trees. And so these unknowing ladies replied “cabuyao” to the friars. Another similar version says that the women thought that the friars were asking for the names of the trees growing around the wharf where they first docked.

In compliance to Spain’s Christianization mission, the friars started building a stone church for the indios in the second half of the 1700s. It was actually the second church to be built since the first one was destroyed by floods and strong waves. The church was finally finished some time in 1771. It was dedicated to Saint Polycarp — bishop, martyr, and titular head of the Catholic Church in Asia.

Thankfully, the church has retained its original feature throughout the years. It is also famous for having the controversial secular priest Father Mariano Gómez of the GómBurZa as its parish priest from 1848 to 1862. Together with the town’s alcalde, José Deasanta Rivera, Fr. Gómez built a cemetery in front of the church on the right side of the tribunal. Eerily, this site is now the home of the Monastery of Saint Clare.

During the American era, The Church of Saint Polycarp was witness to the town’s single bloody event in its history: the Sakdalista attack of 1935. The Sakdalista was an anti-American movement founded by Senate employee Benigno Ramos (the same man who, together with Artemio Ricarte, organized the infamous MAkabayan KAtipunan Ñg Mg̃a PILIpino or Alliance of Philippine Patriots, more popularly known in its abbreviated form MAKAPILI). When Ramos’s opposition to the Tydings-McDuffie Law failed (because he demanded for the Philippines’ absolute independence from imperialist US), his 20,000-strong group attacked 14 towns in various provinces. One of the ill-fated towns was Cabuyao, La Laguna. Today, one can still see bullet marks within the vicinity of the church.

Crossing a road to get to Cabuyao's parish church.

Iglesia de San Policarpo de Esmirna.

Behind the calachuchì.

Shrouded by an acacia tree.

St. Polycarp, the martyred Christian bishop of Smyrna (in parts that is now covered by the Republic of Turkey).

Liceo de Cabuyao, located within the vicinity of the Church of Saint Polycarp.

The church's nave is not that long.

The simple yet appealing altarpiece.

Cupola.

The good news on Easter Sunday (04/04/2010).

A painting of Saint Polycarp being martyred (somebody get rid of that wall clock, hahaha!).

A chapel dedicated to the Saint Polycarp, located inside the church's north transept.

The church's old bell, dating back to the Spanish times. No longer in use due to a crack, it is now on display outside the church. I wasn't able to figure out if it was made by Hilarión Sunico of San Nicolás, Manila because the bell was protected by a steel fence.

At the choirloft.

Church tower.

Krystal just loves church towers!

A wall painting at the choirloft, probably of a saint. I asked the choirmaster who she is, but he didn't know.

A holy water stoup with Spanish inscription.

Krystal with the young choir.

The choirmaster did not allow us to go further up the church tower.

The entrance to the Monastery of Saint Clare fronts the church and the town plaza.

A wide chapel within the monastery grounds.

The town plaza is in front of the monastery and beside the town church.

It's tocayo again.

Only a handful of Antillean houses or bahay na bató is left here in Cabuyao. Fortunately, they are well taken care of by the owners.

Nestlé break. A show of support for Uncle Amador Alas y Évora who helped my family dearly many years ago. =)

I had a hard time taking a picture of this house, whether near...

...or far.

Commercial boon/bane.

Like the UnionBank branch in Santa Rosa whose photo I took, this bahay na bató is now known as Rose Pharmacy.

Going home.

I just love taking pictures of roads (especially the smooth ones) while inside vehicles!

It is sad to note that Cabuyao has somehow lost its touch of rural charm, something that the Philippines is known for, and something which still sparks our generation’s childhood delights and memories. The curse of cityhood is slowly creeping into the municipality. Gone are the large farmlands and thick forests, and its share of the lake is not fit anymore for swimming nor frolic like it used to be in the glory old days of Spanish Philippines. But the unchanging Church of Saint Polycarp and the few remaining bahay na bató still stand as living testaments to this town’s hispanic past.

Ikon, Friar and Conquistador

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Ladies and gents, I proudly present to you Ikon, Friar and Conquistador, one of my favorite essays from the country’s best English-language writer, the late great Nicomedes “Nick” Joaquín (National Artist for Literature and a good friend of Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera). If I’m not mistaken, this essay was written and published during the 1960s. It was recently included in CULTURE AND HISTORY, a collection of Nick’s essays published by Anvil Publishing, Inc. (2004). Ikon, Friar and Conquistador explains most of what we have been fighting for all these years…

IKON, FRIAR AND CONQUISTADOR
Nick Joaquín

The Filipino is most Christian when he doubts that he is, just as the saintly are those who know they are not. A saint thinks himself the blackest of sinners; the moment he thought himself a saint he would cease to be saintly. What a Christian culture creates is a self that’s forever examining, questioning, doubting, denying and confessing itself. The paradox of the Christian is that he must achieve selflessness through maximum self-consciousness. There must be a self before it can be denied. The will must be strong that has to be curbed.

The Christian Filipino is self-conscious, is intensely, tormentedly aware of himself in a way that, say, the Igorot and the Moro are not — and may the statement give no offense, since its point is not that the Christian Filipino is better but, rather, that he sees himself as worse. He winces when he hears his country described as “the only Christian nation in the Far East.” He looks around him and sees only greed, graft, vileness and violence, and he sneers: Is this Christianity? He questions the value of religious instruction for his children; he deplores the folk pieties of the ignorant; he concludes in despair that the Faith is a foreign irrelevance that hasn’t touched his people. Some may see in such attitudes a decline of Christianity. Others may hail them as a triumph of the Faith, for the Christian affirmation is not, after all, Thank God, I am not like this Publican here but O Lord, I am not worthy.

If the Christian religion were to disappear, from the land, we would still remain Christian, not necessarily by being good but even in the way we are not good: that is, in the quirks and qualities of our character. The Faith has so formed us that even those of us who have left it still speak and write within its frame of reference, still think in terms of its culture, and still carry the consciousness of a will and a conscience at war that so agonizes the Christian. For good or evil, our conversion to Christianity is the event in our history.

We might be happier if we had remained within the tribal obedience (as the highlanders of the North and the Muslims of the South have done to this day) but we ourselves deny this when we argue that, even without Spain and the Faith, we would sooner or later have emerged from tribalism. The Conversion shattered for us the Magian cave of Tribe, from which we emerged Faustians, still infant Faustians it may be, but already evolving the infinite I within, which we call soul, and the infinite we without, which we call nation. Lapu-lapu was a patriot in the old reasonable sense, defending a local habitation he could personally encompass. But the nationalist is a madder chap. He worships and will defend a mystical extent of space that ultimately has no boundaries.

It would take some explaining to make a Badjáo see how he is bound to defend the waters of faraway Bolinao, or to make an Ilongot understand that Pagadían is also his homeland. These things can be taught in school, but they come by instinct to those born to the culture. The Christian Filipino who has never seen either Bolinao or Pagadían, who may not know even where they are and couldn’t care less, will still, without question, go and die in their defense, as he would die for his own home, because they, too, are his own land. He will even, in defense of the homeland, fight outside the homeland, as Filipinos have fought in the Solomons and the Marianas, because the nationalism he carries in his blood is boundless. This seems starkly clear to us, but it’s mysticism gone mad to a tribesman, whose loyalties coincide with the boundaries of his tribe. If he fights beyond, he fights as an ally, but not for a nation.

When we argue that, left to ourselves, we would, nevertheless, have evolved a confederation of tribes that in time would have become a nation, the testimony of 400 years is against us. In the last 400 years, the Philippine tribes that were left to themselves have never even approached the idea of union. The highlanders of the North, for instance, did not fuse into one nation in the mountains vis-à-vis the Christians in the lowlands. Nor did the Cagayán Valley become the empire of the confederated Ilongot tribes, whom we find, instead, to this day, still at war among themselves. And in Mindanáo, even Islam, a potent unifier, failed to unite the tribes that turned Muslim, though the Spanish campaigns against them should have made confederation inevitable. The Greeks, whose tribal city-states were similar to ours, and who suffered from an equally disjunctive localism, almost became a nation when forced to unite against the might of the Persian Empire. But the Moros stuck to the private small-scale raid. We try to ennoble those raids today as efforts on the part of our Muslim brothers to liberate us from Spanish rule, though the evidence is that, then as now, the raids were purely for slave and booty, and were thus resisted by the folk supposed to be rescued; but how glorious if there had really been a countercrusade from a Mindanáo organized under one leadership to liberate the land, and sending a mighty fleet northward for a new Battle of Lepanto! But the native aversion to the large effort made such a dream impossible, and the Moros, instead of confederating, have merely split smaller, until we hear of tribes that must have begun as one shredding into as many as 33 sultanates within a single province.

This should tell us that a will to unite and a sense of nation do not evolve inevitably, “sooner or later,” not even when spurred by the force of circumstances. Considering the 400-year failure in this matter of the tribes left to themselves, and considering also the local diversity of tongues and cults, the unification of the rest of the country must seem nothing less than a miracle, and that achievement the basic fact of our history, since any historian would regard the epoch during which that labor was undertaken as our most crucial moment, when the Conversion made us this people and this nation. But we find ourselves being told today that those years of conversion and unification —the 300 years of Spain in the Philippines— are not our history, are of no import to us, are irrelevant and can be omitted from a true history of the Philippines, with the example cited, to prove the point, of the omission by certain Spanish historians of the Moorish period from their histories of Spain. But this example, instead of proving the point, disproves it.

Despite 800 years of the Moros, Spain did not become a Muslim nation but rather emerged from the occupation more fiercely Catholic than before, and can therefore be justified in ignoring the Moorish period as irrelevant since it wrought no radical reformation of Spanish culture. But let us assume that Spain did become Muslim because of the Moros — Muslim in faith, Muslim in culture: would a modern Spanish Muslim historian dare ignore as irrelevant the event in his history that made his nation the unique thing it is — the only Muslim nation in Christian Europe? Would he dare call the Moorish occupation, however hated it may have been, irrelevant to the development of his Muslim people? Or would he not rather say that the invasion was the starting point of his Muslim people’s history and the Christian years that preceded it the irrelevance?

Or to cite a closer example: If a historian finally emerged among the Philippine Moros, would he dare say that the coming of Islam to the Philippines was of no import and the conversion of his folk to the Crescent an irrelevance in the history of his tribe?

If we had emerged from the 300 years of Spain not Christian in faith nor Christian in culture we could dismiss those 300 years as an irrelevant interruption of our history. But since it was those years that shaped what we are today, it’s as impossible for us to reject them as for a tree to cut off its roots. This is the vital difference between the Spanish era and the American interlude. The latter was, like the British and the Japanese occupations, an interruption, which we now seek to annul, because we know that’s possible, having realized it’s not mainstream, as we used to think. But even the nimblest of historical wizards may find it hard to skip Spain and the Conversion and still tell a coherent Philippine history, since he would have, at one moment, a welter of warring pagan tribes and, in the very next moment, a people calling itself Filipino and fighting for its nationhood under the banners of the Cross, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Constitution of Cádiz.

What happened in between is too vital to skip, as vital as the forces —religious, cultural, political— that made it happen, and which may be represented by the three figures that loom on the stage of conversion: the Santo Niño, Fray Andrés de Urdaneta and Don Miguel de Legazpi. When we started to take off as a nation, after ages of static tribalism, we had for propulsion the triple thrust of Ikon, Friar and Conquistador.

The Santo Niño icon of Cebú.

The Santo Niño makes so perfect a symbol of Philippine Christianity because it came with Magellan, became a pagan idol, was reestablished by Legazpi, and has become so native that native legends annul its European origin by declaring it to have arisen in this land. The process was already in motion even in the days of Rajah Tupas. Within 44 years after its arrival, the Ikon had become so accepted no one remembered it any longer as having come from outside. The Cebuanos sent to Legazpi to ransom the image, offering any amount of gold for it, declared that it had been with them for ages and had been their god from time immemorial.

One legend has it falling from the sky; another has it rising from the sea; but both sea and sky are Philippine. The legend that recounts how futile were the efforts to hack it to pieces may be mythic shorthand for the vain war waged against it by native priestesses during its 44 years as the last and greatest of our pagan gods. The translation into Christian worship of the rituals with which it was worshipped as a pagan god, and which survive to this day, is the first and still the best example of folk Catholicism, a fusion of the Christian and the pagan that reveals how the Church triumphed in the Philippines: by assimilating and preserving (as it did in ancient Rome and heathen Europe) whatever of the old cults it could Christianize, so that not only the Pit Senyor of the Santo Niño but similar pagan rites like the tatarín of Manila, the turumba of Páquil, and the ati-atihan of Aclán have survived under the auspices of the Church. It’s ironic, therefore, that those who look back with such reverence to our pre-Hispanic culture should be the loudiest sneerers at Christianity in the Philippines as being mere folk Catholicism, or superstition. They mourn for being lost what they attack for surviving. When they decry the town fiesta they are decrying the old pagan harvest festival, which, as may be observed in the highlands of the North, also entailed open doors, loaded tables and a lot of conspicuous consumption.

That Christianity in the Philippines, like the Santo Niño, adapted itself to paganism, to reach our pagan minds, should cause no surprise, since history shows that the Faith becomes primitive again with every primitive people. It carried all Greek learning within it when it reached Europe, but in Europe, during the Dark Ages, it became a magical nature religion. To the Gauls of the time of Clovis, Christ was not the highly metaphysical Greek Logos but simply a great witch doctor, who proved the potency of his magic by rising from the grave. Centuries has to pass before Christian Europe could produce an Aquinas, a Francis, a Teresa. The Faith respects the human process; and even as Christ himself began as a baby, so every Christian nation begins in spiritual babyhood, with naïve faith. The Philippines, too, had to undergo, is still undergoing, this spiritual childhood, because human processes are gradual, and we cannot, in the wink of an eye, shed all the previous pagan ages. So, the Santo Niño was willing to become a pagan god for us. Yet we hear the charge that violence was done to the Filipinos when a faith alien to his culture was thrust upon him.

Rizal lamented that his people were converted to a religion they did not understand. It’s absolutely sure that the early native converts understood the Faith no more deeply than did the Gauls or Goths of Europe; but if the same argument had succeeded in stopping the introduction into Europe of an alien Oriental religion the world would not have had Chartres or Giotto or Chaucer of Michelangelo. We complain that our forefathers suffered in assimilating forms of culture not native to them. Absolutely. Learning is not an easy process, as our proverbs (“Burning one’s eyebrows”) warn. But if man had limited himself to what was easy because familiar, he would still be in the caves. It’s the accepting of the challenge of the new, the unknown, the alien, the mysterious, that has unlocked wilderness, ocean, the atom and outer space. None of these things came easy; why should Christianity?

We sneer that the Filipino is no more virtuous today than 400 years ago, and that the Faith has had, not only no moral, but no social effect on us. But even the gradual evolution of the Faith in the Philippines has been in the nature of a revolution. The Filipino woman of today, for instance, is not quite the same as the women that Pigafetta and the other early explorers described. And even the modern Filipina who asserts that her pagan ancestress was actually nobler, because uninhibited, would balk at restoring the old uninhibited practices, like getting a daughter deflowered at puberty or making her little boy wear a nail through his phallus. The Filipina may still try to keep men under the saya, but not in such literal sexual subjugation as symbolized by the fettered phallus.

That there was a revolution can be seen by comparing our Christian and pagan arts. When the Club Filipino organized such a comparative exhibit of our pagan and Christian arts in juxtaposition, one could see at a glance how the static forms of paganism —stolid, squatting, expressionless figures— were succeeded, in Christian times, by forms in dynamic motion: gesturing hands, advancing feet, upturned heads, vivacious faces and whirling draperies. The most startling juxtaposition of forms was of the Pregnant Woman, an immemorial Philippine motif that evolved, with the Conversion, into the Pregnant Virgin. But glancing from the pagan to the Christian version, one was amazed to see how forms so similar could be so different. What one saw was not evolution but revolution, the static becoming ecstatic. For the pagan Pregnant Woman —stolid, squatting, expressionless— seems rooted to the ground, earthbound; while the upright Pregnant Virgin, so graceful though so gravid, and leaning impulsively forward, as though about to run a race or take off for the sky, seems the very epitome of the liberated spirit. The testimony of yesterday’s art refutes today’s reading of history. Our folk art records a transfiguration as remarkable as that moment in Greek art when classic serenity, disturbed, became Byzantine rapture.

In this, the Philippine folk artist is not a solitary witness, for our reception of the Faith was indeed not uniformly naïve. Within a century after Magellan, an authentic mystical movement had already appeared in Manila, contemporary with and of the same spirit as the metaphysical movement in 17th-century Europe. The lives of these natives anchorites and contemplatives who founded the beaterios, organized the Third Orders and formed the confraternities, indicate how deep and swift the impact of the Faith was. Yet no study has been made of this movement as a whole, fascinating and significant though it is, because we scorn our own history. The history of the beaterios is surely not the history “of Spain in the Philippines” but of the the Filipino as Christian; and it reveals the revolution being wrought in his country, in his society, in his character.

The testimony offered by folk artist and folk mystic should cause second thoughts among those who assert that the Conversion was no event in our history. It was —and is (for it’s still in progress)— an event not only in our history but in our very souls; and when we confront it we confront the friar, who started the act that’s still transforming us. But the friar also played an earthier role in our history than as missionary, and could just as well be portrayed with wheel and seedling as with cross. Economically he was our culture hero.

The Augustinian friar Andrés de Urdaneta.

Urdaneta makes so perfect a symbol of the friar in the Philippines because he could just as well be depicted raising the Compass as the Cross. To the Conversion, as to Legazpi, he was Chief Pilot; and he was Renaissance Man in all his awesome vitality: sailor, soldier, explorer, adventurer, and yet combining with the man of action the man of thought, otherworldly and God-haunted, afflicted with his epoch’s ‘fever of the marrow’ and suddenly abandoning the world, like so many adventurers of his time (Charles V, John Donne), to vanish into the cloister and there start still another adventure, another exploration, this time in the realms of the spirit. Summoned from the cloister by his king, he willingly set out on a final expedition, though already in his 60s, and guided Legazpi’s armada to the Philippines, where he built the first church, enthroned the Santo Niño, baptized his first converts, was the colony’s first spiritual head. Then he performed a final feat: discovered a safe return route across the Pacific to Mexico, after which he vanished again into the cloister, where he died in obscurity, a man whose voracity for experience the whole world could not satiate, and who therefore yearned beyond. Plus Ultra!

Only heroic ages can produce a clergy in the grand style, not dainty curates, but warrior-priests like Urdaneta, men of the world and of their time, though transcending both. But the challenge of the Philippines, of the Orient, was picked up by a host of such mystic men of action. The Franciscan Pedro Bautista came to the Philippines during the Conquista, built the first church in San Francisco del Monte, ranged Southern Luzón, then dashed off to new frontiers in Japan, where he was martyred; is now honored on the altar as a saint. The Dominican Francisco de Capillas explored the wilds of Cagayán, evangelized the North, built and baptized, then went off to dare the perils of China, is now honored on the altar as a martyr. Of such steel were the athletes that evangelized the Philippines.

Into our soil, the friar poured his blessings. He shaped our economy by what he put in; and our history to this day, and our daily lives, are determined by the crops that he brought in: tobacco, maize, cotton, coffee, cocoa, naranja, guava, melon, sincamás, achuete, avocado, pineapple, chile, peanut, squash, cabbage, tomato, industrial sugar, and so on, and so forth, ad infinitum. We hear of convent yards that were veritable plant nurseries, where imported seed was tried out, nurtured, bred, crossbred, developed, and then given out for general culture.

The revolution here can be appreciated if we imagine that most typical of Philippine scenes: a carabao pulling a plow. We think this “immemorial,” but it isn’t. The pre-Hispanic carabao was a meat, now a work, animal. Tilling, planting, gathering then were all done by hand, which necessarily limited what a farmer could produce. The friar brought wheel and plow here and he turned the carabao into a draft animal, to pull the plow, to pull the cart. This lifted a mountain of labor off the farmer’s back and expanded his ability to produce.

If this had happened in an earlier age, myth would have turned the friar into a generic culture hero depicted, like Ceres, with a crown of vine leaves, seedlings in hand, and enthroned on crop sheaves. Thus the Greeks developed a generic figure, Dionysus, for the culture hero (probably from Asia) who brought them the culture of the grape. Thus the American Indian developed a cult to the god who introduced corn and tobacco to his land. Thus might we have had a culture hero called Parecura, a nature god that came out of the sea to bring us corn and roses, beans and spices; who gave us the wheel and the plow, the horse and the cow, the goose and the turkey; who built dams to check our rivers and canals to irrigate our fields; who flung roads through jungle and mountain and bridges across rivers; and who fixed on paper the turmoil of our tongues and scripts. For Parecura was not only a god of agriculture; he was also, like Apollo, a god of art, music and learning. He trained our wood carvers and painters, taught us architecture, developed our singers and musicians, gave us books on our flora and chronicles of our land, showed us how to dress food and how to tailor clothes, and gathered us together, made us one, with the magic sound of his bell.

The marvel here is that this is not myth but history, our history, though we now insist it’s only the “history of Spain in the Philippines.” But was our entrance into wheel culture an event in Spanish or in Philippine history? Was the introduction of corn and tobacco, of horse and cow, an event in Spanish or in Philippine culture? Was the rise of the native baroque church and house (which are neither Spanish nor Mexican) an event in Spanish or in Philippine society? Was the romanization of our script and the introduction of printing an event in Spanish or in Philippine letters? Was the native santero and event in Spanish or in Philippine art? And was our learning of the guisado an event in Spanish or in Philippine life?

We contend that we would have gotten or learned all these things anyway, eventually, sooner or later, even without Spain and the friar; and we point proudly to the international contacts we had even before Magellan. But what’s so noteworthy about those contacts is how little they did for us. We hear of ships from Siam or China or Java or Arabia sailing to Cebú to trade, but we don’t hear of ships from Cebú, or even from Manila, going to Siam or China or Java or Arabia to trade. This international trade we boast of was so one-sided it can hardly be called trade, since our role in it was purely passive: the folk to whom the trade happened, to whom the traders came, and from whom the payment exacted were slaves or the right to work local mines. Not until the Galleons was our country to play an active role in trade, on a global scale, for Manila became the point of exchange between East and West.

All these cultures we were in contact with were already wheel cultures, but none of them seems to have had the charity to introduce us to the wheel. We had to wait for the friar to do that. They were already building in brick and stone; did any of them care to instruct as in the art? Was a Javanese-style or a Siamese-style temple ever built in the Philippines to serve as model? Not untli the friar came and discovered the possibilities of our adobe did we develop an architecture of our own. We are age-old neighbors of the spice islands, yet never had a spice culture of our own until the friar tried to give us one. The Chinese, we have always had with us. They killed our pottery with their porcelain; did they at least have the goodness to teach us their ceramic secrets? They have always been famed for their cooking, did they teach us how to dress food? They sold us silks and other fabrics; did they ever teach us how to make them? The Arabs were then, vis-à-vis Europe, in the position of Russia today vis-à-vis America – that is, the rival culture. Yet what of Arab culture, aside from its faith, ever actually reached us? The Arabs had great armies and navies then. We say we were in contact with them; but we were still fighting with bow and arrow — with bows of poor tensile strength and arrows unshafted with feathers. Couldn’t the Arabs have trained us in their style of warfare? Or they could at least have brought us the horse, for which they were famous. Did they? Only in the present day has the mother realm of our South deigned to establish cultural interchange with our Muslims.

All the things that the Javanese and Chinese and Siamese and Arabs could have brought us, could have taught us, we had to wait for Spain and the friar to bring us, to teach us. If we had relied on the Javanese, Chinese, Siamese or Arabs to help us advance, we might still be — as indeed the highlanders of the North and even the Moros of the South still are — in a prewheel, prestone, pretrade and prebook culture.

Moreover, Spain’s economic legacy was as nearly disinterested as any act in this selfish world can be. We cannot say that sugar was developed here because Spain needed a sugar bowl, or that tobacco was introduced here to give the Carmens of Seville employment, or that the copra and hemp industries were established to feed the mills of Madrid and Barcelona. In the nearly four centuries under Spain, we never had what might be called a colonial economy, tied to the factories and markets of the mother country. When we broke away from Spain we did so with no fear of economic upheaval, because we were economically independent of her. But in the next years this independent economy was to become a colonial economy, so tied to the markets and factories of the United States that, even today, several decades after political independence, we are still, economically, an American dependency, and tremble to think of the upheavals that separation would cause.

The funny thing is that the Americans introduced into this country not a single crop that may be said to have transformed our economy and affected our history, like the crops that Spain brought. Nor was the existing economy developed save to serve the interests of the American market. During the war, the Japanese here ostentatiously planted Virginia tobacco, asking us, with a leer, why the Americans never developed a Virginia tobacco culture in the Philippines. It was then that a prewar vaunt —“More progress in 50 years under America than in 300 under Spain”— became so hollow as to make one wonder how it could ever have been believed. For we are, today, still vexedly trying to undo the effects and solve the problems caused by that “progress” made under America; but on what Spain brought and planted here depend our lives, trade, culture, progress and history for all time to come. The wheel brought here is in permanent revolution, is dynamo.

The friar planted crop after crop with no thought of how this might be to the benefit or detriment of the mother country on the other side of the world. He was not thinking of the mother country, he was thinking of “this republic,” as he loved to call the Philippines. “Esta corte” and “Esta república” resound repeatedly from his pages. He was —consciously or not— creating the idea of an independent realm. And everything he did increased that independence. Those crops he planted created economic independence. His revolt against the authority of his superiors in Spain resulted in independent friar provinces for the Philippines. His propagation of the dialects instead of Spanish — whatever his reasons for disobeying royal orders in this matter — bred an independent Philippine Christian culture that’s not merely a mirror culture of the Spanish or the Mexican. He organized our dialects into grammars; opened up and mapped our lands; and pulled us out of the mists of folklore into the ear of written history. The churches, roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems he built, we are still using today. From any viewpoint, his is one of the great civilizing labors in the history of mankind.

But the friar as culture hero shared the fate of Dionysus, who was destroyed by the same folk that hailed him for his gift. Like Dionysus, the friar was, in the end, torn to pieces by the women. They were his first foes when he first came; but in subduing them, he succumbed to them, and perished. But culture heroes all have a tragic end — Prometheus, the bringer of fire culture, chained forever and forever devoured; Noah, the inventor of wine culture, castrated; and Osiris, the introducer of agriculture, rent limb from limb and scattered. Like these, Parecura suffered a mythic doom — which is, most improperly, a stealing of the show, since his role in the Conquista was, properly, that of Sancho Panza (the practical one, the realist) alongside the Conquistador’s egregious Quixote.

Which brings us to the last and most poignant figure in our trinity.

El adelantado y gran conquistador, Señor Don Miguel López de Legazpi.

Legazpi makes so perfect a symbol of the Conquistador in the Philippine because, when he came here, he was over 50 years old and a grandfather. Quixote, too, was an old man when, the Age of Chivalry long past, he rode forth on knight-errantry; but Quixote in India is an even older man, and even farther away from when knighthood was in flower. Quixote in India is a gaunt, grave, grizzled grampa riding forth to conquer the Orient. He took Cebú, he took Manila, he extended the empire up to the Ilocos, and he died poor. But in less than a decade he had established a base, a springboard, for Oriental operations.

Quixote, however, was too old to conquer Cathay and the Indies, and died of his mad dream. But for a moment the dream flickered with wild brilliance and it seemed that the Conquistador, who had welded the Americas into one empire, would repeat his feat in the Orient and bring under his flag and the Cross all the region from the Himalayas to the Antipodes. For a moment, greatness of realm seemed the destiny of the Philippines, potential heart of an Asian empire.

In those alarums and excursions, which we bewail for the blood and labor they cost us, the prize at stake was our own magnitude; for if the Conquistador had succeeded, the Philippines might have extended from Indo-China to Australia. Even up to the middle of the 17th century, it seemed certain that the Philippines would at least include Formosa, the Moluccas and Borneo. Restored to his throne with the help of Spanish arms, the sultan of Borneo had sworn fealty to Spain in the person of Philippine Governor-General Francisco de Sande. The Moluccas were conquered in the early 1600s, Formosa in the 1620s. Our geography was still fluid, still in formation.

The Dutch wars (through the first 50 years of the 17th century) posed another big If. Was the Philippines to become Spanish or Dutch domain? Would Philippine culture have a Catholic or a Calvinist accent? Or, the Dutch being no gospeleers, were we, with the Spaniards kicked out, to continue, under the Dutch, the interrupted process of our Islamization?

Such questions show how these wars, which, we huffily say now, were no concern of ours and therefore not our history, were actually decisive in history, since they determined our fortunes and even the shape of our land. But for the Moro wars, which stopped the Conquistador in Mindanáo, Borneo might have been definitely annexed — and we would have had a deeper South, plus oil and ore. But for the Dutch wars, which nailed the Conquistador to the Philippines, Formosa and the Moluccas might not have been lost — and we would today enjoy larger boundaries, plus granaries of rice and spice. But for the 50-year resistance of the Philippines at all today: we would be a province, under another name, of Indonesia.

On the positive side, the battles of the Conquistador had, for us, one tremendous and profound result: the formation of a native elite in close alliance with and practically the peers of the Spaniards. Imperilled by Dutch and English from without, and by Moro and Chinese from within, the Spaniards in the Philippines had to turn to some section of the population for help and support, and they got both from two tribes, the Tagalog and Pampango, but at the price of yielding part of their power and authority to the principales of these tribes. For the Tagalog and Pampango barons, or principalía, the Dutch wars were Runnymede. The Conquistador got the men, timber, provisions and ships he needed; the Tagalog and Pampango barons got, in return, municipal power and government, military authority, more and more of the old communal lands, prestige and privilege, and a liberal education. They could rise to captain and colonel, or maestre de campo, in the army; could be placed in charge of a garrison in the Moluccas; traveled from Borneo to Formosa to Acapulco and got a taste of the great world; and in their collaboration with the Conquistador, in dealing with him as his equals, developed a sense of destiny as a chosen people, as the ruling class. They were addressed as dons.

It’s significant that what used to be our greatest local feast, La Naval de Manila, which celebrated the termination of and Philippine victory in the Dutch wars, was most fervently observed by the Tagalogs and the Pampangos. (It’s still the main fiesta of Ángeles.) the feast had a double meaning for those two tribes. On the one hand, they celebrated the power and privilege they gained because of the Dutch wars. On the other hand, they celebrated the continuance of their ally, the Spaniard, in the land and the consequent continuation of their own power and privilege, which had created a grand style in them, the lordliness they have become noted for. The feast of La Naval encloses the first sprouting of native nationalism; the dynamo was already turning mass into energy, matter into spirit. (The rise of the Tagalog and Pampango principalía in the 17th century coincides, not so incidentally, with the native mystical movement in the same region.) One of the most staggering moments in Philippine history is that day in 1662, when, after a Chinese uprising, the Spanish government, in a symbolic act, turned over the walls of Manila to the Pampango armies, under the leadership of Don Francisco Laxamana, maestre de campo.

Throughout his sojourn in the land, the Conquistador held the Philippines only at the will of the Tagalog and Pampango barons, who exploited their position. Whenever the country was in peril and the seat of government had to be moved from Tagalog domain, the alternative capital was, significantly, always on Pampango soil: Bacolor, as during the British invasion, or Arayat, as Governor-General Basco proposed 30 years later. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Philippines was actually controlled by a triumvirate: the native-born Spaniard, the Tagalog and the Pampango. As long as the first had the other two with him, all the rest of the country could rise in revolt: the government stood firm. But when the Tagalog and the Pampango abandoned the Spaniard, as in 1896, the Spaniard could have all the rest of the country behind him to no avail.

When the Revolution broke out, it was precisely in that region —the Tagalog and Pampango provinces— that had, through three centuries, formed the elite of the land, that had acted as coruler, and that had developed a sense of destiny. (Old folks in Bulacán refer to the revolutionary days as “ang panahóng Tagalog.”) And the reason for the Revolution was the breakdown of the old triumvirate and the reversion of the Creole-Tagalog-Pampango “republic” into a colony in the modern sense, the mishap that marked the final phase of Spain in the Philippines. For the almost 400 years that we lump into one era, the “Spanish era,” were actually three distinct eras.

The first one, roughly the last 35 years of the 16th century, was the era of conquest and conversion.

The second, from the 17th century to around the beginning of the 19th century, was the era of a commonwealth quite independent of its alleged European metropolis, being ruled vicariously, at one remove, by the government in Mexico, which was also too far away to exert pressure.

The third, through the 19th century, was the era of a colony in the classic pejorative sense, controlled directly and oppressively by the mother country; and therefore also the era of the revolt against that status as colony.

A study of the second era, which forms the bulk or our history, clears up a lot of mysteries. Why, after almost four centuries of Spain, is the Philippines so little Spanish? And how could the Spaniards here disregard so flagrantly such royal orders as the teaching of Spanish to the natives? The great distance from Spain was merely an excuse, not the reason. What one finds is a departure from the Spanish policy in America, where a ruthless Hispanicization was pushed. But in the Philippines both friar and conquistador seemed intent on creating, not a New Spain, but an independent Indian Christian culture. In this, they were influenced, in one way or another, by the Laws of the Indies, a product of the American experience. Philip II would not even allow the term conquista to be used here, lest the word justify the use of force against the native or be an insult to his feelings. Certainly, the Spaniard in the Philippines showed more respect for the native cultures than he did in, say, the Caribees — a respect that explains the survival of our old cults, dialects, place-names, and barangays.

In the second place, the Spaniards who came here, came here to stay; and their sons, already born here, knew of no other mother country, could only pay lip homage to Spain, and would, in fact, later show as vehement a hatred of the Peninsular as any Propagandist. This attitude was displayed even by the friars of this epoch, who, though not native-born, had also come to stay, and therefore shared the Creole’s antagonism to the governors-general, as transients and reminders of outside authority. So, there was a stressing of “this court” and “this republic”; a declaration of independence from the old friar provinces in Spain; cruel inquisitions of the governors at the end of their terms; and, among the Creoles, the establishment of the alliance with the Tagalog and Pampango leaders. Though still subsidized by the silver of the Americas, the Philippines was developing economic and political independence; and might have become, if this state of affairs had continued, a more or less sovereign commonwealth with a viceroy of its own, appointed directly from Madrid, but merely a figurehead in a government controlled by Creole, Tagalog and Pampango.

That this was in the offing is indicated by the increasing use of the term Filipino. We hear of an archbishop called a Filipino, of delegates to the Cortes styling themselves Filipinos, of a Manila Cathedral priest fighting for the Filipinization of the clergy — which was what secularization really meant. We reject the claim to being Filipinos of the archbishop and the delegates, but dare not reject the martyred priest, though Burgos was a Creole like them. But if Burgos was a Filipino, then the Creoles who regarded themselves, not as Spaniards, but as Filipinos, had a right to the name. The delegates to the Cortes were indeed proclaiming a new idea to the world: the existence of something called a Filipino. And once the idea had been proclaimed, the Creoles could no longer keep it to themselves. Within a generation, their age-old allies, the Tagalog and the Pampango, were appropriating it for themselves.

The vexed debate over what is a Filipino crashes against two extremes: one, that the idea has existed from time immemorial (as the Cebuanos came to believe they had had the Santo Niño from time immemorial), and two, that the idea sprang full-grown with Rizal, like Athena from the brow of Zeus. But no idea, alas, ever springs full-grown in this world of process. Every idea is like man himself, whose origin we trace through near-man, protoman, ape-man, and missing link. Similarly, the Creole archbishop, the Creole delegates, Burgos and Rizal, the Propagandistas and the Revolucionarios, were all equally stages in the evolution of the Filipino.

During the first half of the 19th century, Mexico and the rest of Spanish America broke away from Spain; this, plus the opening of the Suez Canal, doomed the comparative independence of the Creole-Tagalog-Pampango “republic” in the Philippines. Madrid took over direct control of the islands, and to them were diverted the bureaucrats, officers, friars and other parasites that had hitherto been dumped on America. The Creole in the Philippines found himself being elbowed aside by the Peninsular. For the first time, the Philippine colony found itself being actually used as a colony. The reaction was instantaneous: the revolt of Fathers Peláez and Burgos in the Church, the revolt of Novales in the army. The first would set up a “Filipino” clergy, to oust the Peninsular friars; the second would set up a “Filipino” empire, to oust the Peninsular officers who were taking over the posts held for centuries by Creole, Tagalog and Pampango. These latter two, on the other hand, also elbowed aside by the Peninsular, now found the Creole of no more use and abandoned him. The Tagalog and Pampango principalía was now ready for its own revolt, and the Conquistador lay on his deathbed.

While possessed by a sense of destiny, the Tagalog and Pampango rose to greatness and captained a nation — but they have been rather confused of late.

It’s not yet, however, time for the oration by the graveside. Ikon, Friar and Conquistador were but the Sacrament of Baptism. The Filipino has yet to advance to the next stage, the Sacrament of Confirmation, when, having come of age, one makes a conscious act of faith and receives the Holy Ghost. Is that what we are doing on this fourth centenary of our converstion?

Whatever our qualms, may the cry today be: Plus Ultra!

The Filipino is still in progress; the dynamo still throbs.

Three hundred and thirty three is all

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Plaza Mayor, Intramuros, Manila (18th century)

THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY THREE IS ALL
José Mario Alas

I
Three three three
Do not make forty eight, see:
Innate are we to Iberia
All else extrinsic, anathema

II
But forty eight
Cannot measure three thirty three
To speak of spite and white and hate,
Set this reined tongue free

III
Three hundred thirty three
Mutes forty eight –-
Its rapacity, obscurity;
Renaissance at hand, so are we
free.

IV
From the proud Legaspi
To the ashen treaty
Rebirth we be.
Our victory.

Circa 2002

Copyright © 2010
José Mario Alas
Manila, Philippines
All rights reserved.

Desecrating the Philippine flag

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The Fourth Estate got too elated over Pacman’s systematic decimation of Miguel Cotto last November 15 that it failed to notice that a law was already being violated.

Many didn’t notice this, but the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a photo last November 17 showing a man unwittingly desecrating the Philippine flag at the expense of his admiration for Manny Pacquiáo(see below):

This action grossly violated the provisions of the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines (Republic Act No. 8491):

Section 34 of the Prohibited Acts;
f. To add any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawings, advertisements or imprints of any nature on the flag;

But what if that guy holding the flag is a Filipino who’s already a US citizen — would he still be exempted from Republic Act 8491? Besides, the crime was done overseas — would it still matter?

Right now, what matters most is that our local leaders, particularly Senators Richard “The Dick” Gordon, “Candid” Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Francis “El Queso” Escudero, have proposed to “legally desecrate” the flag that has been known to us –and to our patriots who first hoisted it– as a symbol of our nationhood for more than a century already. The details of this “legal desecration” can be found in the provisions of Senate Bill 3307 which proposes to amend Republic Act 8491.

The bill seeks to add a ninth ray to our flag’s sun. With tons of national problems continuously disturbing our lives every day, why do our solons want to do such a thing?

In a statement, Gordon, who’s the most vocal on this latest move to make a graffiti out of our country’s beloved symbol, has this to say: “We are a country that has had a conflict with our Muslim brothers for the last so many decades. I think this is a big step toward reuniting our country, recognizing the contributions of our fellow countrymen, the Filipino Muslims. We should recognize their deeds in our country.”

He did not say, however, what those contributions were, if there were any at all. We’re speaking here in the context of Philippine historiography, something that the good senator is trying to imply especially when he mentioned that our country has been in conflict with Mindanáo Muslims for decades.

Well, not exactly decades, but for centuries. Or perhaps since the Fall of the Byzantine Empire. Or perhaps since their “prophet” Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh wrote these hate-filled passages in the Qur’an:

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (S IX 29)

“O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you; and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (S IX 123)

“O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (For friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guided not a people unjust.” (S V 54)

(The People of the Book are the Christians; jizya, on the other hand, is the tribute.)

As you can see, lasting peace between Muslims and non-Muslims is nothing but a pie in the sky.

Here in the Philippines, the government has tried everything it can to break the dividing wall between Muslim Filipinos and non-Muslims, particularly Christians. But it is the Muslims who keep on distancing themselves. And with much bravado. We long for peace, but they take pride in war. Why? Just refer to their Qur’an.

And now they have the nerve to claim Mindanáo for themselves. This should not be a surprise anymore because Filipinos today do not know much about Philippine history…

Renowned US historian John Leddy Phelan’s monumental work, The Hispanization of the Philippines (University of Wisconsin Press, Menasha, WI, 1959), recounts the story of one of the processes of how our nation was built:

In various provinces of the Philippines native chieftains and freeman were assembled during the year 1599 in order to “elect” the Castilian king as their natural lord and sovereign. These election ceremonies were organized upon the urging of a royal cedula from Spain. The Filipinos based their voluntary submission on the contractual promise that the king and his new subjects would render each other certain services.

To reiterate, the Filipino identity is the product of the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. The Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language.

As stated in Phelan’s book, the previously existing native ethnic states went into the Filipino State as co-founding members in 1599. They incorporated themselves with the Filipino State when they elected the Spanish King (Rey Felipe II) as their natural sovereign. This election was verified during a synod-plebiscite held also that year.

From that time on, and after forming part of the 1571 Filipino State, our pre-Hispanic ancestors also accepted Spanish as their official and national language with their respective native languages as auxiliary official languages. Thus, the previously autonomous Ethnic States that existed before 1599 were respectively the ones that belonged to the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Pampangueños, Bicolanos, Visayans, Mindanáo Lumads, etc. including the Moro Sultanates of Joló and Maguindanáo.

Yes, even Mindanáo’s Muslim leaders had a deal with the Spanish monarchy.

Thus, before we go off topic here, adding a ninth ray to the sun will not be a solution that there will be everlasting peace between Christian Filipinos and Muslim Filipinos. This is not to say that we should continue hating the Muslims. No, of course not. It’s useless. Jesus Christ didn’t teach us to hate. But the tenets of Islam teach Muslims to hate: “O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about…

Sadly, their fundamentalism can never be denied.

Now, let us discuss what the symbols of the flag stand for. The white triangle stands for equality and fraternity. The blue field is for peace, truth, and justice. The red field for patriotism, and valor, and bravery. The stars are for Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo. And the eight rays of the sun represent the first eight provinces which declared themselves in a state of rebellion against Spain: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Écija, Bataán, Laguna, and Batangas (these provinces were then placed under martial law by the Spanish government).

Adding a ninth ray to the sun tarnishes the significance of the meaning of the other eight rays. What province does the ninth ray represent? And what if other groups ask to be represented in the flag as well? Besides, the Moros fought the Spaniards in order not for them to be assimilated to the Philippine government. Is that what you call a fight for freedom? Yes, it is. But they fought only for themselves, not for the whole country.

To put it more bluntly, they fought against the Philippine government during the Spanish times, like what they’re still doing to this very day. And then our politicians want to reward them something that they never did?

In another angle, Emmanuel Libre Osorio postulated in a column of his in Business Mirror (25 June 2009) that “until the ninth ray is added to the Philippine flag, the Philippines cannot be a truly national community. It is that simple and yet its truth has eluded many.” (Business Mirror).

Simple? Unbeknownst to Mr. Osorio, the Philippines has been a national community since 24 June 1571. And that was when Manila was founded and declared as the capital city of the Philippine Islands during the reign of the first Spanish Governor-General, El Adelantado Miguel López de Legazpi.

The Filipino State, therefore, was simultaneously founded with the founding of the City of Manila. Logically speaking, why should there be a capital city, seat of a central government with its laws, without a corresponding state to govern?

We should thus celebrate June 24 each year as the birthdate of our country, and not merely as Araw ng Maynilà.

In the same article, Mr. Osorio also implied that this clamor for a ninth ray has much weight in it because it has been raised numerous times in the past by people of influence and political significance: former Cagayán de Oro City, Misamis Oriental Mayor (and now Senator) Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.; two-time Speaker of the House of Representatives José B. Laurel, Jr., and; Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, ex-chairperson of the National Historical Institute. But that is beside the point. Mr. Osorio is already using appeal to authority here. Even if, say, José Rizal were alive today and he’d also opt for a ninth ray, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their argument would be correct already. Einstein may have been a genius, but that didn’t make him infallible.

Mr. Osorio then asks: is the addition of the ninth ray a constitutional heresy?

What does the Constitution say?

Article XVI, Section 1 of the Constitution states: “The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.”

The Constitution is silent on the number of rays.

But that silence doesn’t mean that we should allow creativity –or should I say POLITICAL WHIMSICALITY– to meddle with what Marcela Marino de Agoncillo, together with her daughter Lorenza and Rizal’s niece Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, toiled for in Hong Kong way back in 1897. The constitution is also silent with the color of the sun and even on the shape of the flag. It can be “silent” about so many other things regarding the attributes of our flag; all one needs is an imaginative mind. I’m sure Mr. Osorio doesn’t want to encourage “creativity” such as what that boxing fan did when he hoisted the Philippine flag last Sunday with a “PACQUIAO FOR PRESIDENT” lettering, does he? But if Mr. Osorio is cool with that, then God save the Philippine flag and all other things which symbolize our national identity.

“The revolution, which is a commitment to freedom, is being recognized, symbolized by the rays. In the search for national unity, a common bond is sought and found. The common bond is the commitment to freedom. A commitment to freedom different from staging a revolution may also be symbolized by a ray or rays. It is all very simple.”

No, it is not all very simple. We are speaking of concepts here, beautiful concepts that exist only in the mind, in a distant future, a fevered dream, utopia. The “ninth ray advocates” may have a good intention: peace and harmony in Mindanáo. But no, adding a ninth ray to finally hault the neverending insurrection in the south is not a simple thing to do. Frankly speaking, it’s a waste of time, money, energy, effort, not to mention a crime against history. It is 100% guaranteed that the Muslim insurectos in Mindanáo and elsewhere will never give a monkey’s @$$ whether we add a ninth ray, or perhaps a tenth ray for Sultan Kudarat, or an eleventh for Shariff Kabunsuan, or a twelfth ray for Christmas, etc. The Muslims never asked for a ninth ray. The hungry and jobless Filipino masses do not need a ninth ray for their flag; what the masses are asking for are for food, stable jobs, and a trustworthy government. That is what the people are clamoring — THAT IS WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD GIVE. The Mindanáo Muslims (led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other self-styled Islamic patriots) on the other hand, are asking for the whole island of Mindanáo, or at least the areas covered by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanáo. That is what the government should focus, on how to make them understand that it is not possible because it’s tantamount to destroying Filipino patrimony which Spain bequeathed to us.

This futile effort of adding a ninth ray to the sun’s flag in order to achieve peace can be compared with those peace talks the government conducts with local communists under the leadership of José Mª Sison. Malacañang Palace should realize that the communists will not stop until they have set-up a dictatorship of the proletariat, something that is vague and strange under republican and big-business politicians that we have today.

Sad but true.

The government’s efforts to find a solution to end these hostilities are laudable. But please, not at the expense of our flag. It has been an unwavering symbol of our national identity.

To repeat Arnaldo Arnáiz, LEAVE THE FLAG ALONE.

Iglesia de San Agustín (Intramuros, Manila)

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Guess I have to do this again…

SAN AGUSTÍN CHURCH

Almost two years ago, on 29 October 2007, I planned of embarking on at least a bimonthly trip to any Philippine province of my choice. So far so bad, I’ve been to less than 10. Laughable and deplorable at the same time. Perhaps the only major travel that I did since that day was when I visited Chabacano-speaking Cavite City with some of my officemates (17 November 2007).

On that cool October morning, my wife accompanied me to San Agustín Church, the first church in the Philippines (constructed from 1587 to 1607 — an incredible 20-year span!), to pray for guidance. Unfortunately, when we went there, the church doors were closed. And time and budget didn’t permit us to go inside the church’s museum.

I’ve been to that church –one of two of my favorite churches (the other one being the miraculous Shrine of Santo Sepulcro— quite a number of times (been inside the museum only once). It has a special attachment to me. Maybe because our country’s regular religious rites began there. Or maybe I’m just amazed how that church withstood the test of time. During World War II, when the rest of Manila was ablaze with destroyed buildings and rotting flesh, it was the last church left standing (but with a gaping hole on its side).

Of course, I have to mention that the remains of our country’s first leader, the great conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi, is buried there.

Maybe one major reason why I feel so attached to San Agustín is that it is the first church established not only in the Philippines but also in the heart of its capital, Intramuros, the original Manila, “la Manila de mis amores…”

Our country is so rich in history and culture. Reading about it is not enough. One has to travel to experience it. So this month of October –also known as the Spanish Month across the Spanish-speaking world– I would like to relaunch that aborted “flight”…

Read the San Agustín article (complete with pictures of my cute self and my ever-supportive wife) that I wrote two years ago here.

However… (rhymes with the word “translator”, hehehe!)

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