Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Past Denied 2

The seminal boil of resistance was lanced in the “Battle of Mactan” and with it came the moral of the story that no matter what the odds, freedom is always worth fighting for.

Legend has it that Lapu-Lapu and his men simply fought with arrows and bamboo spears; but they fought with great heroism. Their sense of nationalistic pride, love for freedom, had put the foreign invaders to rout. Thus, the battle ended with the Spaniards fleeing back to their boats, leaving their beloved captain — their “light, mirror, and comfort”— to die on the rocky shore.

This resistance was to be reaffirmed many times over when the Spaniards returned in force to colonize the archipelago, especially in Muslim fiefdoms.

Prelude to colonization

As it was, Filipinos of 1521 were not yet Filipinos but indios, Moors or heathens. When the Spanish fleet, led by the heavily bearded Portuguese dreamer and explorer Ferdinand Magellan, reached Samar (and later Cebu), the Philippines then was just an archipelagic cluster of tribes. The notion of state, or region, or common worship or civilization was alien to the natives. Armed to the teeth, each wary of the other, the natives were seemingly preoccupied with sailing the short seas for livelihood, and also to fight.

The excellent chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, who accompanied Ferdinand Magellan’s 1521 expedition in Las Yslas Filipinas, describes the islanders (Samarenos) thusly:

“They have holes in their ears so large that they can pass their arms through them. Those people are caphri, that is to say heathen. They go naked, with a cloth woven from the bark of a tree about their privies, except some of the chiefs who wear the cotton cloth embroidered with silk at the ends by means of a needle. They are dark, fat and painted. They anoint themselves with coconut and beneseed oil for protection against the sun and wind. They have very black hair that falls to the waist, and use daggers, knives and spears ornamented with gold, large shields, fascines, javelins and fishing nets that resemble rizali and their boat are like ours.”

Like politicians of today, the conquistadors too encouraged ignorance. With a country splintered into 7000 islands, the Spaniards must have thought that they could easily rule and exploit the entire archipelago in no time. To make sure that they could lay down their colonial intentions smoothly, the Spaniards saw to it that any kind of unity among the natives was to be avoided at all cost. Necessarily, any effort at coming together was to be discouraged.

In search of paradise

After Magellan’s fateful expedition, the strident wind of colonization began to sweep the country. It was certain that the invaders would return, but the natives were clueless what their real intentions were. And so the Spaniards were back but with a different twist.

Under the common of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the Spanish fleet landed in Cebu around 1564. The Spaniards, despite being outnumbered, wasted no time to begin the process of colonization. Using the banner of Catholicism as a tool for subjugation, the colonizers launched a massive military campaign. Worse atrocities were committed to these malleable natives as part of the Spanish Crown’s colonial efforts. The burning of houses, the wholesale looting, and the desecration of the dead in search of gold, were methods used by the Spaniards, not only to force submission from the natives, but also as means to survive in a desolated island. Some of the natives fled, leaving their villages in ruins while others stood their ground only to surrender their freedoms out of fear later. With the disappearance of the old barangays, the Spaniards formed the first Hispanic settlements in Cebu. For three years or so, the Spaniards maintained a main base there while desperately awaiting reinforcements from Spain.

As days dragged into months, and months into years, the Spaniards grew restive, quiescent in a way. With nothing left to plunder and to support them, the restless invaders decided to jettison Cebu. Soon they figured a nearby island that was reported to have abundant food supplies, mainly rice. And so off they sailed to Panay.

Like the natives of Cebu, the Pintados of Panay fiercely resisted the conquistadors, but the colonizers once again prevailed by applying the same level of violence towards the people. Wherever the Spaniards went, villages were looted and burned to ashes. For even with a small military contingent, some of these jingoistic Spanish soldiers were in fact veterans of the Spanish wars. Obviously, these colonial incursions had certainly spurred a “culture shock” among the local population. For the first time, natives would face Castilians as aggressors, puissant and armed, which completely kept them off guard even before the battle began.

Although only a few barangays were virtually conquered, half of Panay’s population perished during these incursions.
The northward expansion

After establishing a new base in Panay, another island far north lured them. This time, the Spanish conquistadors vowed to conquer Manila, a place reported to have large settlements of Bornean Muslims. Quickly, the conquistadors consolidated its forces by putting up a coalition of Visayan allies, mostly fighting men from Cebu and Panay. Recruitment of mercenary soldiers was easy. Spaniards knew for a fact that Visayans were hostile to Manilans because they thought of them as incorrigible barbarians— “Muslims.” This was to have a profound impact on the Christian-Muslim relationship in the future.

With the aid of 1,500 Visayan auxiliaries, the small band of Spaniards decided to move to Manila. The year was 1570.

The northward expansion was, in fact, a vital strategy to complete the process of “possession” and “conquest.” Indeed, if Manila could be taken over by Spaniards, the next logical step would be the “conquest” of Luzon and much of the archipelago. Owing to Manila’s large settlements, soon to follow was the establishment of a unique Spanish colonial institution— the encomienda; a complex political structure employed by the regime to exact tributes and labor services from the indios.

Part III will tackle the beginning of the Moro Wars; the Spaniards versus the Borneans and beyond.


O.D. Corpus, The Roots of the Filipino Nation, Vol. I, Quezon City: UP Press, 2010

Abraham “Abet” Iribani, Give Peace A Chance: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Talks, Magbasa Kita Foundation, 2006

Teodoro C. Benigno, “A Dip into the Deep Past,” Here’s the Score, Philippines Today Inc., 1990

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Past Denied (Part 1)

The coming of Islam in the archipelago is an epic tale. And it is a tale we must unfold to better understand the Moro struggle in Mindanao. While Filipinos today take pride that the Philippines remain to be the only Christian nation in Asia, such fact could not have been true had the colonizers arrived a little late. Were it not for the quirks of history, majority of the people today would be worshipping in mosques instead of Catholic cathedrals.

It is undeniable that the advent of Islam antedated the arrival of the Spaniards by two centuries. And so when the great Magellan thrust his Cross in Cebu in 1521, many of the islands had long been under the Crescent. It was only a matter of time before the rest did. But the conquistadors came right on the dot. What could have been a simple expedition in search of spices and lowly peppers became Spain’s iron grip on the spread of the Islamic faith throughout the archipelago.

The coming of Islam

Islam first landed on the shores of Sulu in the early part of the 13th century. Located in the most nearly central position of any island in eastern Malaysia, Sulu stood to gain immense commercial advantages more than any of the scattered islands in the archipelago. Travelling from the Middle East to the Orient, Arab traders from Malacca brought the religion to the area as part of their mission to propagate Islam and to find a new home.

Historians are one in saying that the first Arab missionary to visit the Philippines was Karim Al-Makhdum. Coming from Malacca in 1380, Makhdum established the first Islamic mosque in Simunul, the tiny island in Sulu. From there, Islam began to send branches towards the outskirts of Sulu and beyond. Later on, in 1540, with Islam firmly in place, the Muslim communities in Sulu established the first Sultanate in the archipelago with the messianic Shariful Hashim Abubakar as its progenitor.

The arrival of Islam had indeed brought tremendous changes in the life of the people, especially in their culture. With Islam as the foundation for the establishment of a new superstructure, the scattered datuships or barangays were consolidated into one political entity—the sultanate.

Along with the Islamic schools and the introduction of the Shariah, Islam also enabled the people to feel that they were members of a community larger than their barangays—the Muslim Ummah. Instantly, the new religion blended with pre-Islamic socio-cultural practices of the local population, which even strengthen their ties as a community. By this time, the native Muslims began to see the world differently. Islam did not only give the Muslims a sense of purpose but also a unique identity that would spur fierce resistance against Spanish attempts to subjugate them.

The first quarter of the 16th century saw the spread of Islam in mainland Mindanao. From the mouth of the Pulangi River, the historic Shariff Kabungsuan arrived and founded the Sultanate of Maguindanao. A century later, Islam reached the Lanao areas and had moved further towards north of Luzon. As a result, progressive Muslim settlements sprung in Manila under Rajah Soliman’s tutelage. But his reign was merely an ephemeral episode. Shortly before Islam began to take roots in the region, the colonizers arrived and crushed them.

The bygone period

The winds of change were now blowing all over the archipelago, shaking if not shattering the peaceful coexistence of the people. Except for occasional wars between feuding factions, relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities were generally peaceful. This was the situation when the Spaniards took “possession” of the islands in the 16th century.

The historian O.D. Corpus in his magnum opus, “Roots of the Filipino Nation,” observes that when the Spaniards came, they brought with them such version of Christianity “with the fire of the fanatic Hispanic branch.” The coming of Islam two centuries ago, however, spells the difference. “Christianity came to the islands as part of an aggressive mission of conquest,” write Corpus. “Islam was brought by the individual efforts of men who came looking for a new home and, because they could not live well without their religion…” Spain’s campaign against Islam has historical and traditional origins. Fresh from the war to recover Granada from the Moors (Muslims of North America) in 1492, they crossed the Pacific Ocean only to meet, once again, their ancient nemesis “halfway around the world from the arena of their earlier conflict.”

When the volley of cannon from the fleet led by the flagship Concepcion reverberated to announce that Christianity had indeed set foot in the archipelago, the message was loud and clear: the Spaniards came not to proselytize “love” and “peace” among the Moors or heathens, but to introduce Christianity through massive military campaign. Like a wolf clothed in sheep’s fur, the thrusting of the Cross, pierced itself onto the once peaceful Mindanao terrain, symbolically ripping its virgin crust and unadulterated layers and forcing out native blood from its wounded limbs. War has ensued.

Note: Part 2 will discuss the Moro wars against Spain and the coming of the Americans.

O.D. Corpus, The Roots of the Filipino Nation, Vol. I, Quezon City: UP Press, 2010