Discerning the synodality path for Filipinos, Part 7
“Ay! Ito’y ang Inang Bayang tinubuan, siya’y ina’t tangi na kinamulatan ng kawili-wiling liwanag ng araw na nagbibigay init sa lunong katawan.” Tula ni Andres Bonifacio, “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa”
The Philippine Catholic Church faces a fork on the road as it reinvents itself in response to the Vatican’s call for synodality. One option is to continue the trodden path that led them away from the poor. The other option is shaking the status quo by accepting its new role as an arbiter and charting a new course towards achieving a synodal Church by redeeming God’s promise to the Filipino people.
Boldly, the Philippine clergy needs to apply the Old Testament (OT) to the plight of the Filipino people. As a literary work, OT has a lot of parallelism to the Filipinos’ journey to the promised land. Andres Bonifacio’s poem and that of Apolinario Mabini’s prophetic words that the Philippines “is the only Paradise which God has given thee in this life, the only inheritance of thy ancestors and the only hope of thy posterity,” needs to be interpreted biblically in the context of God’s promise to Abraham, Jacob, Moses and to Joshua.
And why not? The Old Testament is about the special relationship between the God of the Old Testament (OT) and his chosen people, Israel; but also includes proselytes (strangers or newcomers to Israel). When the world was created, it included the Philippines, but the OT only focused on Israel’s journey. Filipinos need to claim their spot in the Bible as part of Creation and God’s promise.
The Filipino biblical story has already unfolded and written. What is needed is for the country to Cross the Jordan River as Joshua did to get to the Promised Land. To that end, it would be critical for Philippine clergy to apply a hermeneutics anchored in Filipino culture and national aspirations, to effect such change in society using the liberating, albeit life-giving texts of the Bible, to speak to the weak and oppressed.
The God in OT is always presented as the only God who exists but did not discount the possibility that other gods existed outside of Israel. Thus, the fact that the Filipino prophets (i.e., Mabini, Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, Jose Rizal, etc.) used the word Bathala in the lingua franca could be used as the Bathala who was the only God who exists at the time of their ordeals in the Philippines.
It does not mean that they’re different from the God of the OT because nobody has really seen God, but it is an important claim to make because the Bible that the Westerners brought to the Philippines was used as a tool of oppression and conquest to serve their purposes. Filipinos took it 100%, as gospel truth.
The Israelites were in Egypt, a foreign land, for 430 years (400 as slaves) until Moses’ death and succeeded by Joshua who was told by God to cross the Jordan River to the promised land. Joshua was one of the spies that Moses sent to Canaan (Promised Land) and his exploits are in the Book of Joshua, a classic political and literary book that laid the foundation for federal republicanism (federalism).
Crossing the Jordan River is a spiritual metaphor for freedom that comes after a long season of adversity and waiting. Filipinos were and still are slaves of foreign masters for over 500 years now. It’s high time to Cross the Jordan River for the promised land. This is the spark Bonifacio was alluding to in his poem, for the sun depicted on the Philippine flag, to finally shine through.
Remember that the premise of their (Spain, United States) colonial rule was to convert the pagans to their brands of Christianity. Before the Spaniards came, the Filipinos then already believed in the Supreme Being (Bathala), a civilized country armed with its own language (Tagalog) and letters (Baybayin).
After 300 some years being told that they were pagans destined to hell, Filipinos believed it. When the Americans came to do the same conversion effort, many Catholics did not buy the idea. Well, that’s what 300 years of subjugation will do to your body and spirit. Today, over 80% of Filipinos are Catholics and the Protestants only command a small percentage. The point is, both colonial powers used the Cross to enslave Filipinos, literally and mentally.
Western Catholics always view Filipino Catholicism as being based on popular piety, as if it is wrong. The undertone is that there is an incomplete conversion to Catholicism because the belief is not rooted in the Gospel. Well, for over 400 years, Mass was celebrated in Philippine Catholic Churches in Latin. What did they expect? In truth, Filipinos only began to celebrate Mass in English in 1970.
The Filipinos need to interpret the Bible to suit their needs and situation. It sounds subversive and blasphemous, but Catholics and Protestants have subverted the Holy Scriptures to kill people, take away possessions, and stifled their efforts to establish a national identity. The invaders engaged in criminal acts in furtherance of their religious objectives in the name of God and salvation.
Bathala in Joshua 1:7 encourages Filipinos to “obey all the law my servant Moses gave you.” Well, Moses was the Patriarch of the OT and wrote books to guide the people of Israel. In a similar vein, Bonifacio, Mabini, Jacinto, and Manuel L. Quezon wrote Decalogues (patterned before the Ten Commandments) that reflects a belief that “the human person is a social being who has a duty and responsibility of upholding the welfare of the society.”
Following these heroes’ lead, the Katipunan, the Propagandists, Huks, and now the NPA’s struggle for self-rule must be viewed in the context of Joshua 1:1-9 and exact for itself, God’s promise to Joshua. The Filipinos have wandered in the wilderness not only for the past 36 years post EDSA, but long before that. President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., might be the duly elected leader of the land, but he is no Joshua to lead the Filipinos into the promised land.
Philippine clergy can help the president, and they can find inspiration from these passages and from the echoes of the past to reclaim its moral ascendancy. Israel’s covenant with God stood at the core of its identity, why can’t the Filipinos reclaim the centrality of such a covenant with its Bathala using its own language like the Hebrews did?
The God of Israel laid out in Joshua 1:4-6 the boundaries of their inherited territory. Why not hear Bathala say to the Filipinos that, “This is your home, the land of your birth which extends to the Philippine Sea in the east, Kalayaan Island Group in the South China Sea in the west, Celebes Sea in the South, and the Luzon Strait above Batanes in the north. Be strong and courageous and inherit the land I promised your ancestors.” To be continued…