top of page

Flashing our Mirrors on Gainza

Our knowledge of Gainza comes from our memories of colonization, and those memories are, whether we like it or not, tinged with nostalgia.

I say this as I grapple with the images that surface from the positions reached by Calacday in his research, as he looks at the documents and allows them to speak to him. As facile as it may sound, allowing the text to sound off means that the voice of the reader also is equal to the other voices ranging across centuries.

There is therefore the fault of our communities (which include cultural and political leaders, teachers, even historians) when we stop at a certain point to describe a persona living in the centuries long gone. Thus, it should interest us to question statements like, Gainza was a builder, educator, and reformist.

What were behind his sense of constructing structures? What were his thoughts about reforms? Was his reform ever good for that period where he lived and would those reforms still matter now?

As a non-historian, I have those questions and doubts. But it is part of the contradictions of intellectual discourses that where I question histories, I could only develop my critique once historians – good ones – develop the skills to question texts and when they – honest researchers – soldier on to look and look deeply into more sources.

Going back to Jethro Calacday’s Racialising Reform: Bishop Francisco Gaínza and the Creation of the Native Clergy in the Philippines, 1863–1879 enables us to see the Church in colonial history and how that church has isolated a lens with which to view our culture.

In the section, Creating the Native Clergy, Calacday writes: “Gaínza moved to the diocese of Cáceres in 1863 whence he immediately released a pastoral letter addressed to the entire faithful of the diocese. In Camarines he encountered a “docile” and peace-loving people who, for him, were the model colonial subjects—a counterpoint to the revolutionary Peláez back in Manila. Gaínza in Manila, depicted the people of the Bicol region idyllically as faithful adherents to the Holy See and the Spanish Crown: it is indeed a consolation for us to know, that amongst the provinces of the Philippine Islands, models of adherence to the Chair of Peter, and fidelity to the Throne of Castile, are seen in those that form the diocese of Nueva Cáceres: the peaceful docility of its inhabitants, the simplicity of their customs, the absence of certain vices that reign elsewhere, the security with which one lives, and the enviable tranquility, prevalent in Camarines. What more could we desire in a flock entrusted to our pastoral care? (This was a translation from Spanish to English with the Spanish text appearing in the Calacday paper).”

Docility? Was this a compliment or an insult? On whose side do we vouch our heritage?

Think now of the Bicolano and how we picture the regional (questionable as this category may be) character of the people. Would “docile” be up there in our list of traits?

Following the paper, Gainza praised the Bicolanos for their “sweetness and simplicity of customs, those peaceful habits, which everyone recognises in you.” These change as it would be explained later in the character of the Bicolanos were attributed by Gainza to the results of the civilising efforts of both the church and state.”

“Civilizing efforts” is a phrase that has often been used to describe modernity and, well, civilization. To a great sector of our society, the impact of civilization has been praised. It is for this that for many Bicolanos, Gainza was a hero, a man who brought “improvements” and, by extension, comfort to the populace. Refer to the seminary, the first school for women, the roads, etc. And yet down the road of that quote, Calacday pursues another idea: “Gainza insisted that the values of obedience to the state and the parish priests should be cultivated to maintain peace.

In the said sentence we finally open our eyes to the power of the priests aligned with the state and/or mentioned in the same breath as the state or colonial government. The priests were not just inside the church leading the rites or in convents protected from the natives; the priests were praying for peace not for the sake of peace but for the sake of governance.

The verb “civilizing” in itself is, much as I hate the word, pregnant with the possibilities of positioning. Using the translation still from Schumacher, Calacday states how Gainza delineated the forces against civilization: “To show the opposite of the civilised nature of Bicol under Spanish colonial rule, Gaínza denigrated pre-Hispanic Bicol culture: They lived in the midst of eternal hatred and vengeance, hunting one another down in the thick forests without other law than that of oppression, without other right than force, ignorant or contemptuous of the eternal principles of justice, and bowing their heads . . . before ridiculous figures, symbols, and repugnant cynicism!

Looking back, the church had a function and it was, quoting Calacday citing John D. Blanco, “to police the natives, a position that was maintained through the institution of racism as colonial policy.”

In the paper, Calacday writes: “Anyone familiar with nationalist historiography would not be surprised that Gaínza was a racist or that Christianity was hopelessly entangled with colonialism. If racism meant a belief in the superiority of one race over the other, then, as we shall see shortly, Gaínza undoubtedly held this view.” Lest we accuse Calacday of not heeding the citations, he says: “But we cannot simply accept such straightforward, clean-cut claim. Gaínza was more than just a racist because he grappled with the contradictions of Catholic ecclesiology within the bounds of Spanish colonialism. Dwelling on this “grappling” and “contradiction” reaches beyond the politics of Spanish colonial rule towards an ontological dimension.”

Which brings us back to the First Philosophy.


bottom of page