FIVE centuries is a long time. A very long time. Generations have passed since the Spaniards introduced Christianity in this archipelago. Cebu City and the country would have commemorated that event with a bang. If people make a big fuss about birthdays, why not celebrate 500 years of Christianity with a bigger fuss? Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic made sure the celebration would be reduced to a whimper.
I watched the Cebu City Government’s activities online because only a chosen few were allowed to see them live. I like the narration about why the expedition led by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan was led to Cebu. Among islands in what is now the Visayas, Cebu was the most progressive. And its inhabitants were not intimidated by the white men. The Cebu port had already been visited by other foreigners. They were not an ignorant race.
I would have liked the celebration to elaborate this point through a video or film. Even giant illustrations showing what the Cebu settlement must have looked like at that time would have been better. I want us to look at Cebu not as a Spanish enclave after Spain colonized the archipelago but as an independent settlement proud enough to have resisted initial attempts by the Spaniards to enslave us.
The commemoration was supposed to be a toast to the friendship between two independent countries. But it wasn’t that way at the beginning.
The Spaniards looked at us in a different perspective. It acted like a superior civilization, unable to grasp the essence of the communities that existed in the archipelago at that time. It took years of colonization and subjugation before we rose to claim what is rightfully ours from the beginning.
This was the reason why our very own Jose Rizal, educated by the Spaniards, sought to learn more about a culture erased by Spanish subjugation. To be fair, Spanish intellectuals did the same and recorded what they learned in books that have become the object of current researches on the culture of the people in the archipelago before the arrival of Magellan and his men.
That is the reason why the chronicler Antonio Pigafetta was honored by the Cebu City Government with a statue. Because in writing about the Magellan expedition, he also chronicled the lives of the people they encountered and the places they went to. In the process, he gave latter generations a glimpse of what the settlements they visited looked like.
What were we as a people before the Spaniards introduced Christianity to us and colonized us?
That for me is an important point in this celebration. Frankly, I grew up thinking we are not capable of bravely defending our patrimony until I read how we were so war-like the Spaniards spent decades to tame us, sort of.
I would say that President Duterte’s stance in the face of China’s territorial grab has its roots in those centuries of Spanish colonization, which was followed by decades of American subjugation and years of Japanese occupation. The willingness to fight, one of the virtues of our pre-Spanish ancestors, is gone.