There is a jaw-dropping painting in the Quadricula (HOCUSII) exhibition with a disquieting title — “Lashes in the name of God.” Go to Galleries 27 and 28 on the 4th floor of the National Museum of Fine Arts to view this horrific pageant of religious perversity where a hapless native woman is tied to the communion rail of a church while a man lashes her back, upon orders of a friar gesticulating from an ornate pulpit. Town folk huddle in the front pews, cowed witnesses who must learn the bitter lesson.
The intellectual author of the Quadricula paintings, Atty. Saul Hofilena, has received comments and queries from shocked and incredulous viewers. He has been accused of excessive anti-friar bias, like Marcelo del Pilar and the Propagandists. But Hofilena, an eminent lawyer, never fails to affirm his views:
“I have not become an artist, much less a soothsayer; I am a historian, but I am still a lawyer.The HOCUS paintings are my evidence.” I asked him what exactly he meant by evidence, and was not surprised when he replied in lawyerly fashion: “Evidence is the means sanctioned by law to ascertain in judicial proceedings the truth regarding a matter of fact. There is testimonial evidence which is the testimony I am presenting now. There is documentary evidence which pertains to the documents, old books, ephemera which I used in order to give meaning to the Hocus paintings. And there is real or object evidence. Real evidence is object evidence, for example, in crimes involving illegal possession of firearms the object evidence is the firearm….” Law 101, and I thought we were analyzing a painting!
As if he had read my mind, the attorney asked somewhat rhetorically –Who is a witness? – and gave the answer himself. “ A witness is a person who has organs of sense and who could perceive and by perceiving can make known his perceptions to others. I have presented to you my perceptions of our history, according to the rules of evidence.”
In layman’s terms, Atty. Hofilena did not invent the lashing scene, it is not or was not fake news. It really happened and his evidence are primary sources like the account of a French astronomer, Guillaume Le Gentil, of his visit to the Philippines in the 17th century. Here is the portion pertinent to the Quadricula painting:
“As I [Le Gentil] was walking with Monsieur and Madame Roxo in the country quite near the village, about four or five in the afternoon, we beheld a great concourse of people gathered about the entrance of that same village. We went in that direction, to ascertain what could be happening. It was a woman who had not attended Mass that day, whom they were taking to the church to lash. She was led along by the executioner. He had a heavy cat-o’-nine tails on his shoulder, which hung down to the middle of his back. The father, more black than white, went behind, and a crowd of Indians followed, specially of Indian women. Doubtless they were those of the village, who were obliged to witness the ceremony, in order to teach them not to stay away from Mass. Madame Roxo, seeing this sight, was touched with compassion. She left us, forced her way through the crowd, and easily succeeded in reaching the father. She asked clemency for that woman, which was obtained.” Le Gentil continued: “But then, the Marquis of Villa-Mediana, Madame Roxo’s father, arrived and asked about what had happened; he did not approve of her generosity and scolded her for it roundly in my presence.” The Marquis told his daughter that her act of “saving” the woman would be the cause of a greater evil because that indian would commit the sin again and again, so eventually, the sin would rebound on the one who asked for the pardon. Le Gentil’s eyewitness account is included in the Blair and Robertson, Volume XXVII.
More evidence — the barbarous practice prevailed until the 19th century. Another foreigner, an Englishman called John Foreman wrote a book described as a political, ethno-geographical, social, and commercial history of the Philippines. He noticed that the natives went to church out of custom or habit (as many of us do today) and that they would refuse to go if they had no clean clothes to wear. They probably were lashed not only for missing Mass but also for worldly vanity. As for the local government officials of those times, the gobernadorcillos and village chiefs, habit or not, they had to be seen in church on Sundays and holy days of obligation, lest they be heavily fined or beaten without mercy like that unfortunate woman in the Quadricula painting.