EVEN before my column last week, the theme “Victory and Humanity” for the 2021 National Quincentenary Commemorations had elicited various reactions expressed to me as I embarked on a personal task of informing our people, in especially our teachers.
An avid reader of the Manila Times messaged me and voiced her concerns about the theme, which she thinks is too contrived or “pilit”, especially if it is separated from Filipino history from the 1560s to the 1650s. It referred to the violence of the “conquista”, or the beginnings of the Spanish colonization of the islands. What is so victorious and human in the horrible truth of the colonial experience?
In a previous column (February 8, 2020), I have already written how Ana Labrador, Deputy Director General of the National Museum of the Philippines, emphasized the importance of not only celebrating, but also critiquing these events and their depictions.
Even the Spanish expat and fellow columnist for this paper, Dr. Jorge Mojarro, said in a recent column that the National Five-Year Term Committee (NQC) on his Facebook page should “present to his audience the different hypotheses…instead to choose a particular story.
Dr. Rene Escalante, vice president of the NQC, in a recent phone conversation explained to me what the quincentennial is not. Its focus would be the events of 1521, not the entire Spanish colonial period. For many, 1521 would be synonymous with the beginning of Spanish colonization, thinking that it was Magellan who started it, which is wrong. Magellan was arrested by Lapulapu and colonization did not begin until 1565, after 44 years. If I may add though, many times the impact of Catholicism is discussed because a related event in 1521 was the introduction of Christianity and the handing over of the Santo Niño.
So basically it’s about the three related events in 1521 – the victory over Magellan at the Battle of Mactan by Lapulapu and his people; the introduction of Christianity to the Philippines (since most Filipinos have become Christians, of course); and in solidarity with the celebrations of Magellan 500 in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal): the achievement of science and humanity — the first circumnavigation of the globe.
We used to see these events in 1521 – as I’ve heard historian Dr Ferdinand Llanes put it – from the perspective of someone aboard a Spanish caravel, when we should be seeing it with the objective of those who are on the shore, therefore a Filipino. perspective. With this in mind, the Quincentenary will also become the celebration of the culture of our ancestors, the one that Magellan and his suite experienced when they were welcomed in Homonhon, Mazawa and Cebu, and that their chronicler Pigafetta recorded in his story. This has caused some historians like Zeus Salazar to think of the Quincentennial as an opportunity to highlight our ancestors, which has never happened in previous commemorations.
Replacing the first “500 years of valor and victory” theme, the “500 years of” was dropped (personally, quite controversial) and added “Humanity” to highlight how we treated hungry and weary explorers upon arrival , treating them with kindness because we are so good at trading. Because they had been resupplied, even with the death of Magellan, the armada was able to reach its intended destination, the Moluccas, and was able to complete the circumnavigation of the world, which would not have happened if they had all died of hunger. . Dr. Escalante reminded me that the state commemorates events with not just the past in mind, but their current agenda. The National Quincentenary is now a leading theme in our diplomatic and tourism efforts.
I should tell you what the Quincentennial shouldn’t be. Previous celebrations of Filipino-Spanish Day have become an unintended avenue for some to wash the dirty linen of Spanish colonialism by highlighting Spain’s cultural contributions. Again, they didn’t mean it that way, but some people would read it that way. We acknowledge the nuanced accounts of the colonial experience, but I hope the quincentenary should not be a place to deny the abuses suffered by Filipinos in 333 years under Spain.
With our experience in public history, the themes of commemorations coming from the government are always downright clean. Believe me, this has been the case for almost every major commemoration, if not all, the country has ever had. It’s normal because they are… well… the government! Really, I never expect complicated, tumultuous narratives from the state.
Whatever contentious discussions have occurred at past commemorations, they were due to the participation of non-governmental entities such as academia and the general interested public, and that is fine. A successful commemoration, such as the 1998 Philippine centenary, actually sparks debate and discussion among the people. A celebration that would have no reaction from people would be boring and fruitless. And I know that all discussions that question the governmental theme of the National Quincentenary are certainly welcome.