Briones: A history of collaboration

Publio J. Briones III
·2 min read

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order 55 to create the National Quincentennial Committee to oversee the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines.

Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Undersecretary Anthony Gerard “Jonji” Gonzales, who is a member of the committee, said their aim is to raise public awareness on the archipelago’s “rich yet challenging pre-Hispanic or pre-colonial history.” It’s not to celebrate the country’s “discovery” by Ferdinand Magellan and company.

Gonzales delivered the message during the Spanish Navy training ship Juan Sebastian Elcano’s goodwill port call in Cebu on Saturday, March 20, 2021, which is part of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Ferdinand Magellan-Sebastian Elcano expedition and the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to the islands.

The undersecretary was right.

Sources about our past are scant and spread across various libraries and archives around the world. But that’s only because our ancestors didn’t leave any written records. If they did, these would have been destroyed by Spanish colonizers.

Again, we really have no way of knowing.

At any rate, the Philippines, which, to those who still don’t know was named after King Philip II of Spain, wouldn’t have fallen under Spanish rule if the conquistadores didn’t get help from the locals.

After all, they had many things going against them.

First, there was geography. If you look at a map, our islands are situated on the other side of the globe from Spain. To get here, they either had to go around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and then cross the vast Indian Ocean or go around the Strait of Magellan, which is the natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Which is why, when they decided to make the Philippines one of their possessions, galleons set sail from the port of Acapulco in New Spain, which is now the country of Mexico, and not from a Spanish port.

And once they got here, they encountered several thousand islands inhabited by people who spoke different languages, practiced different religions and who didn’t necessarily get along. Which, come to think of it, the Spaniards used to their advantage. After all, el enemigo de mi enemigo es mi amigo. It was not uncommon for Spanish authorities to use one ethnic group against another to quell a rebellion.

Still, it would be unfair to describe all the islands’ inhabitants as collaborators although the many revolts that took place during Spanish rule failed because the majority of the population sided with the colonial government.

And that’s the truth.

In fact, we probably would have remained a Spanish colony if not for the Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Paris, which forced Spain to give up the islands for US$20 million at the end of 1898.