Wenceslao: Muted commemoration

Bong O. Wenceslao
·3 min read

MARCH 16 passed by without us making much of a whimper Remember the song that made a Boholano driver popular and which starts with the line, “On March 16, 1521, when Pilipins was discovered by Magellan...” The song has grammatical and factual errors but became popular for its novelty and more importantly because it reminded us of a past that was crucial in transforming the islands in this archipelago into a nation. Who would have thought that we would be commemorating that event amid a pandemic? And that an international celebration involving Spain and the Philippines would get so muted many failed to notice it?

It has become a challenge for the body created to commemorate the passing through our archipelago of the Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan 500 years ago because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the show must go on, sort of. Who would dare allow the dates encompassing that historic event to pass us by without us making a whimper?

The ship named after Sebastian Elcano, one of the leaders of the expedition that circumnavigated the globe for the first time, just passed by the Cebu port. Remember Magellan? He was killed in a clash with the natives led by Lapulapu, which made the commemoration doubly momentous for us. Which is why I agree with the idea of us focusing on pre-colonial Philippines instead of the passing of the Spaniards on our shores.

That was my worry when the commemoration of the quincentennial of that historic event was first broached. I have always been for the promotion of our pre-colonial culture that got downplayed by centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Even our annual celebration of the feast of the Child Jesus tends to overlook the need for Cebuanos to be educated about their culture before the Spaniards introduced Christianity to our ancestors.

When I wrote the history of the town of Tudela in tha Camotes group of islands, I got this urge to suggest to the officials of the town where my late father was born to hold a festival focused on the old ritual of “Pag-anito.” The old name of the place after all was Tag-anito before the Spaniards named it after a place in Spain. But would not the Catholic priest there frown on celebrating a pagan ritual?

The quincentennial celebration could have deepened our knowledge of our precolonial past, as what Jonji Gonzales of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas explained. But I doubt if that would be achieved because all eyes are on the fight against the pandemic and health protocols are limiting the activities that could be done. Besides, doing things online is problematic considering our level of knowledge and use of modern technology.

We can therefore consider this as one missed chance. Maybe government officials should look for other ways to deepen our knowledge of a past not many are conscious about. I once suggested that another celebration sans Spanish influences be initiated. The Sinulog festival, after all, is tied with the Catholicism introduced by the Spaniards. I think pagan rituals can be celebrated as a mainly cultural celebration and the Church should not frown on this.