Regarding Duterte on the Quincentennial

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales September 09,2019 - 06:50 AM

 

President Rodrigo Duterte has a point, one that he has always been consistently pursuing. His latest pronouncement that there is no need to celebrate 500 years of Christianity is but a reiteration of his dislike for the Catholic Church, especially, as he sees it, its bishops meddling in politics. But that does not mean that we, including him, should forego remembering the events of 1521.

Anthropologists agree that the Spanish conquest and subsequent colonization was extremely damaging to indigenous societies, and by that we mean virtually all the settlements not just in the Philippines but in Latin and Southern America that were gradually pulled into the colonial project of the Spanish crown.

Duterte’s view of the Spanish conquest resonates perfectly with the debates that ensued as the Columbus Quincentennial of 1992 approached. Indigenous peoples of the Americas protested and called for a cancellation of the grand celebrations to mark the 1492 discovery of America and for good reason. The Spanish arrival there resulted in what has been referred to as a demographic collapse due to the introduction of European diseases that the Aztec, Maya, and Inca peoples had no resistance against. Overnight, indigenous societies and the three aforesaid empires collapsed due to the Spanish plunder for gold that ensued, and the alteration of native ways of life. 

For the Philippines, in just 100 years after Legazpi arrived in Cebu in 1565, most of the native elite in the Visayas and Luzon had been co-opted by the Spanish authorities into subsuming their domains to the yoke of colonialism, giving them privileges that resulted in the first evidences of collaboration in exchange for privileges and favors among our ancestors.

But that does not mean that their followers necessarily submitted meekly. Even as everyone converted to Christianity, folk or nativist adaptations of Catholic practices also ensued in the Philippines as much as in, say, Mexico. Our ancestors merely replaced their idols with Christian equivalents but the way they practiced their faith took on a kind of duality: native gods taking on the face of Catholic saints but still treated in the same manner as before. Revolts were also a constant feature of the colonial landscape as much as the unending and tragically brutal slave raids from Mindanao.

The list can go on and on. But all is now water beyond the bridge. Spain apologized decades ago to the Philippines for executing our national hero, Jose Rizal. The once-mighty Spanish empire is long gone, reduced to the point that even one of its home provinces, Cataluña, wants to separate from it.

Indeed, if one were to look at all the negative things the Spaniards did to this country—and if one experiences what I personally underwent while applying for a visa to that country three years ago—I would be the first to assail any celebration of Magellan’s arrival in 1521.

But we cannot deny history. Historians, for example, will tell you that had Spain not conquered the Philippines, the Portuguese would have done so as in fact this was within their sphere of influence in the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the new world between Spain and Portugal. Historians also aver that had the Spaniards not arrived, the rest of the archipelago would have been completely Islamized within 100 years from then on.

I have nothing against Islam or the Portuguese but what I am trying to say is that the reality that Magellan came here amidst a European race for spices and gold has happened. Equally important, it was here that he met an ignominious end in that fateful battle at what the Spaniards call Punta Engaño (Deception Point) in Mactan, an allusion to their master being deceived when in fact it was the other way around.

President Duterte may have expressed his desire not to participate in any celebration about the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines, but he has not said he will not join any other celebrations related to 1521. The fact that Lapulapu and his people bravely defended their domain against Magellan and 50 of his men that fateful morning of April 27, 1521, is one pivotal event that we should never forget.

Let the Quincentennial therefore be a time for remembering, for commemorating, especially if we hate the idea of celebrating it.

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