500 Years of Christianity: Battle of the Sword and Cross in Mactan, Part 2



“The important thing is to never stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

Napoleon Bonaparte believed that history is the version of past events that people decided to agree upon. Albert Einstein couldn’t agree more that is why he advocated for students of history to never stop questioning. The power of imagination helps us understand and learn from the past and to see its relevance to the present.

It is through the wisdom of these men from the past that we should look at the last 500 years and determine if the impact of Christianity transcends history. Undoubtedly, Christianity has been intricately intertwined with history and the formation of a Westernized Philippine society. The evolution of such society through the principality of church teachings, must be examined in light of present societal realities of domestic violence, child abuse, drug abuse, and violent crimes against families.

We shouldn’t confine our knowledge of Magellan’s landing to Yoyoy Villame’s hit song, Magellan. Although, his version is what most people learned growing up in the Philippines. Rather, we should understand the implications of such a battle by putting it in proper perspective.

Lapu-Lapu was originally from Borneo (Sabah) who was recruited by Rajah (Datu) Humabon to be his man Friday to drive-off pirates that has affected his trade with China and neighboring Indonesia. For an old man at 70 years old, he was a badass. Then came Magellan who convinced the Datu and his followers that Roman Catholicism is more supreme than the local’s Bathala and will improve his rule. But Lapu-Lapu was a die-hard Muslim who refused to bow before Magellan’s Cross.

The fact that the irritated Humabon used Magellan to take care of the intransigent chieftain tells us about what we already know now: political leaders bow to colonial masters to further his or her own interest. Lapu-Lapu’s bravery to resist the invaders tells us one side of the Filipino, of resisting foreign powers. The other side of course, is obedience or acceptance.

His bout with Lapu-Lapu could easily have been billed as the “Fight of the Century” in the mold of David and Goliath’s duel, but despite his heroic stand, Lapu-Lapu was never in the running for the coveted title of Philippine “National Hero.” The Christian majority in the country made him an enemy in the eyes of religion.

Lapu-Lapu’s victory over Magellan stands out like a sore thumb because the Muslim man nearly prevented Christianity from being rooted in the country. Though in reality, his victory never presented a hindrance to the Spanish colonization. He was a Muslim who served as vanguard for the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Magellan’s death signaled the rest to turn tail and head for the Spice Islands, got their samples and headed back to Spain to announce their victorious voyage.

The sultanates continued to rule the Philippines but Lapu-Lapu, who was angry at Humabon’s treachery, left and sailed back to Sabah. The questions in the current context are. Did Lapu-Lapu’s stint in the Philippines make him a Filipino? If he was, was that because Sabah was part of the Philippines (under Humabon’s rule) or did he acquire his citizenship by serving Humabon’s armed forces?

Miguel Lopez de Legaspi would come forty plus years later to formally establish the Spanish colony in Cebu and erected the first Catholic church in the country. He and Magellan came for the three Gs: Gold, glory, and God, in that order. Interwoven in the aftermath of their conquests that came in waves, are stories of slavery, brutality, torture, and mass killing.

Colonizing the Philippines in the name of Spain was an important step to defeat the Islamic Empire’s spread in Asia. The Spaniards’ arrival reversed what could have been an Islamic foothold in the archipelago but at a price of imposed governance and religion.

It took three and a half centuries to hold onto their only colony in Asia with Luzon and the Visayan Islands, primarily. The Muslim fighters followed the example of Lapu-Lapu and was able to keep Mindanao as their Bangsamoro. The rest of the country fell to the hands of the Spaniards and became Catholics by hook or by crook.

The hook came in the form of an established quality educational system for the elites run by European friars and the Jesuits, and a government system to maintain order in the reservation. The crook was a brutal occupation that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos.

Such naked grab of power engendered hatred towards the friars and the Catholic Church. It was so brutal and suffocating that the likes of Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Maria Panganiban, among others would march to the clarion call of the time – freedom and independence.

The revolutionaries could almost savor the bloody taste of victory with successful campaigns against the Spaniards and had even established the Malolos Constitution, but the Americans snapped it from their jaws, imposed governance and consequently retained the spoils of war when they defeated Spain. The American occupation of the Philippines told of similar stories of slavery, brutality, torture, and mass killings of hundreds of thousands Filipinos.

This time with the added names of Emilio Aguinaldo, Gregorio del Pilar, Miguel Malvar, Vicente Lukban, among others. The Americans came to impose democracy and their brand of religion – Protestantism through mass education. They also tried to subdue Muslim Mindanao but the Americans were only able to carve out a Christian population enough to support their multinational corporations in Mindanao.

When the killings stopped, a hybrid democracy (Spanish/American influenced) started to take root. Filipinos attended schools with Jesuits and American missionaries/ teachers in the classrooms. Democracy brought life to various Christian sects or cults as an alternative to Roman Catholicism: Aglipayan, Iglesia ni Kristo, and of course, the evangelicals (Protestants, Methodists, Mormons, among others).

Five hundred years later, the Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia with more than 80% Catholics, and the rest shared by the other sects/cults. It is also a country with a long history of corruption and ineffective governance and pervasive colonial mentality. The quincentennial anniversary celebration brings to mind the impact of imposed religion and governance. Rizal’s “Noli” and “Fili” reminds of the role the Catholic Church played during those atrocities, in the name of the Cross.

Similarly for the Americans, their reign cultivated anti-Americanism for their continued naval presence that helped prop the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law in support of their national interest. Marcos’ reign also precipitated the rise of the New People’s Army.

The dictator fled during the Church inspired People Power revolution in 1986 but much like his namesake, Ferdinand through the Imedlific erected their own cross, a replica of the Magellan Cross that now sits atop a small hill on Magallanes Street. Irony of ironies as pilgrims flock to the jubilee site in Cebu, to claim their Papal Indulgence. (To be continued…)