For most people who had to take Philippine history either through the Makabayan course or through some sort of college class, history is divided generally into five eras: Pre-colonial, Spanish, American, Japanese, and Post-1946. Instantly, these categories of course do not have any actual meaning to indigenous peoples in Northern Luzon, the Aetas, the Lumads of Mindanao, and the BangsaMoro who are all groups that were basically still autonomous until the American era.
For most other Filipinos, instead of history, we are taught stereotypes and religion is re-enforced.
The most common textbook used in high schools is the Philippine History and Government text by Gregorio F. Zaide and Sonia M. Zaide. In addition to incorrect information (such as the Beyer Migration Theory) and a catelogue of stereotypes about different ethno-linguistic groups (i.e. Ilocanos are frugal, Tagalogs are proud, etc.) which comprises Chapter 2. Here are some exceptional excerpts:
“…We are a nation with a gift of faith and a gift of music that other Asian nations do not have. The Filipinos are very spiritual and deeply religious. Christianity triumphed easily in the Philippines, but the other Asian nations do not accept Christianity from the West….” (p20)
“…We are a very important and unique nation in the world because God made us to be a gift of faith…This means that God likes to do an important mission with us….” (p. 29)
“…It is not by accident that we are the only Christian nation in Asia. We are meant to be the bridge between the Christian West and the non-Christian East…” (p. 29)
“…Thus Fr. Franciso Colin, a Jesuit historian, wrote that the first settler of our country was Tharsis, son of Javan and great grandson of Noah…” (p. 30)
All in all, it’s about 20,000 years of history before Magellan is summed up in one chapter (about 30 pages). Nowhere in the lengthy discourses about Noah (from a Jesuit historian who lived in the 17th century no less), or how the Philippines is on a prophetic mission from God, are there any real and useful facts. For example, all Filipinos speak Austronesian languages–though one can argue that Chavacano is not Austronesian–which is the largest family of languages in the world and are genetically related to Indonesians, Malays, Micronesians, aboriginal Taiwanese and Polynesians. Nor does it mention anywhere that Filipino soldiers were prized by the Sultans of Malacca, that trade missions with China were conducted as early as the 10th century, or even that historically the Philippines had close relations with Ternate, Sulawesi, Borneo, Johor and Champa (an Austronesian kingdom in what is now Viet Nam).
Now when one reads from William Henry Scott’s Barangay, one finds an entire book of 300 pages dedicated to 16th century Philippines without any mention of genealogy tables from Noah. One also finds several interesting references not covered in most Philippine textbooks such as the use of the word “siyak” in Kapampangan and Tagalog texts,which the early Spanish friars translated as bishop or a caretaker of a masjid (mosque) (p.241). Siyak comes from the Malay word, syekh, which in turn comes from the Arab word, shiekh. The word simba also comes from the Malay word, sembah, which means to worship and the word sambahan (simbahan) is mentioned in the Boxer text to mean mosque and Fr. Pedro Chirino also noted the presence of several mosques in Manila (mostly in Santa Ana) at the time of the Spanish conquest of Luzon. We can therefore see from Scott’s work that Christianity was fused into an existing indigenous religious system which was already incorporating complicated ideas from Islam and Hindu-Buddhist traditions. It also clearly shows that the early friars essentially embraced some of these Islamic and Hindu-Buddhist elements in order to make it more comprehensible especially to the datus who would have been familiar with these concepts in the same way they took the practice of anting-anting and stamped on images of the Santo Nino.
The Role of the Spanish Inquisition
Zaide and other textbook writers also leave out an important historical contribution on how we became a “bridge”: the Spanish Inquisition. On January 25, 1569 Philip II (after whom the Philippines is named) issued a decree establishing the “El Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquicision” in New Spain (Mexico). Thereafter the Archbishops of Mexico were also Inquisitor-General (or “Grand Inquisitor”) of New Spain and were independent of the state. After the re-establisment of Manila in 1571, the bishop and later archbishop of Manila was named an Inquisitor of the Faithful. After Mexican independence in 1821, the Archbishop became the Inquisitor-General and held that position until 1898. We know from the Boxer Codex and the writings of Fr. Pedro Chirino that the Inquisitor-Generals took their office seriously and we know several stories where Filipinos were forced to turn over anitos, poetry (poetry not dedicated to the Christian God were termed “gulo” and therefore subject to the Inquistion), writings, and any other object that might lead one to form a pact with the Devil….(Scott, 242).” The Devil of course meant anything that could not be useful to the Spanish political and religious consolidation of the Philippines.
Therefore, one of the basic reasons why Christianity “triumphed” in the Philippines was because of the success of the early friars to synchronize Christianity with indigenous beliefs on one hand and on the other hand to erase anything that would undermine their mental hold. As Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o explains, “….economic and political control can never be complete without mental control…[This mental control is achieved through] the destruction or deliberate undervaluing of a people’s culture, their arts, dances, religions, history, geography, education, orature (oral traditions), and literature, with the conscious elevation of the language of the colonizer.”
Through the readings of Zaide, one can see how deep this mental control is.