A Jesuit Chronicle from the Philippines, Newly Discovered and Published in Spain

JESUIT priest Diego de Oña (1655-1721) spent most of his missionary life in the Philippines and finished writing an ecclesiastical chronicle in 1701. However, his work has remained unpublished and almost forgotten for hundreds of years. . A few days ago it was finally picked up and published by Editorial Sílex (Madrid). The task of the editors, A. Coello de la Rosa and V. Peña Filiu, both experts on the Spanish monarchy in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, was not easy, as they had to transcribe and annotate more 900 pages of text. . I had the opportunity to interview Dr Coello de la Rosa about this exceptional recovery:

How did you get interested in the colonial Philippines?

I had been interested in ecclesiastical history since I published my thesis on El Cercado in Colonial Lima (1568 to 1606), where the Jesuits were stationed until their expulsion from the Americas and the Philippines (1768 to 69) . From colonial Peru, I moved to the Philippines following my “beloved” Jesuits.

Who was Father Oña?

He was a professed father who worked in different missions in the Visayas. He was responsible for writing the second part of Labor Evangelica by Francisco Colin (the first official Jesuit chronicle of the Philippines, published in 1663). The result was not satisfactory for the Jesuit superiors (provincials, rector), and after Oña had completed the manuscript in 1701, they decided not to publish it. In my opinion, his work was not good enough. His style was rough, what he shows is that Oña was not a good writer. However, I think he was clearly censored because of the opinions he expressed in the manuscript.

How and where did you find out about Fr. La Chronic d’Oña? Was he known to other historians?

It was a coincidence after going to the ARSI (Jesuit Archives) in Rome. It is part of the Philippine collection (20 volumes). It was a censored story that the Society of Jesus refused to publish during Oña’s lifetime. Believe it or not, only a few historians have cited it; among them, the Filipino historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa, who hardly quotes him in his voluminous Jesuits in the Philippines.

Does it only deal with religious issues or does it also touch on the life of Filipinos during the colonial period?

The Labor Evangelica, Part Two, deals with many aspects, mainly related to Spanish activities during the Philippines of the 17th century. Nevertheless, there are also sketches on the life and beliefs of Filipinos.

What do you think is the main difference between this story and those written by Chirino, Colín or Murillo Velarde?

Chirino was mainly interested in natural history. He was not interested in political issues as he believed Antonio de Morga had already covered this aspect of Philippine history. Francisco Colín’s Labor Evangélica focused on religious and political issues until 1616. From that date to 1716, Murillo Velarde wrote a general history of the Jesuits in the Philippines. It is made up of four books, like that of Oña, but it contains information about the Mariana Islands. This is one of the reasons Oña’s Labor Evangélica has not been published. By 1700 Luis de Morales, the Jesuit provincial of the Jesuits in the Philippines, had served as a prosecutor in Europe, and most importantly, he was on the verge of death while on a mission in the Marianas. The fact that Diego de Oña’s Labor Evangélica did not cover the martyrs who died there – among them Pedro Calungsod – did not benefit the publication of Oña. Quite the contrary. His manuscript was not accepted because it did not pay homage to his Jesuit colleagues from distant Marianas. An error which was resolved by the History of Pedro Murillo Velarde (Manila, 1749), a book which was no less important, which was published in Manila.

The first important task, the correct recovery of the text, has been carried out. As often happens, there remains a second necessary task for the Filipino people: its translation.

Edward K. Thompson