Quirky quincentennial

Sometime in 2018, the Office of the President issued Executive Order 55 which had a rather quirky title: “…constituting a steering committee for the commemoration of the Quincentennial of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines, the victory of Lapu Lapu in the Battle of Mactan and other historic events that happened from 1519 to 1522.”

Who could have written that kilometric title? It studiously avoids stating that Magellan discovered the Philippines, an error that took decades of head-butting to correct, but to say “ the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines” is just as ludicrous because there was no Philippines yet when Magellan and his bedraggled expedition landed in one of the islands.

Most Filipinos retain a strong worship of Lapu Lapu and in the course of decades, he has become an icon of love of country (though there was no country yet) and defense of national sovereignty against foreign invaders. The Spaniards take umbrage at any attempt to place Lapu Lapu at center stage. There have always been dissentient opinions about that initial point of contact: there is a school of historical thought that insists Spain did not come to conquer and colonize, but was in search of souls to harvest and save from eternal damnation. The opposite side contends that Spain staked territory with Cross and Sword in search for the lucrative spices. The Quincentennial is only months away, so sabers are already rattling with untamed intensity.

Executive Order 55 also stated, “…and other historic events that happened from 1519 to 1522” which I suppose includes the first Mass and the raging controversy about where it was held, the gifting of the Santo Nino statue, the enigma of mass baptisms. For good measure, we should throw in Magellan’s hubris and meddling in local affairs, village-burning by the Spaniards during the battle on the shores of Mactan, the vengeful banquet trap laid out by the natives shortly after, and the flight of the Spaniards, never again to return until 1565. We should dissect all that during the Quincentennial to see how those events contribute to its objective of awakening “… a spirit of national unity and international comity”.

Happily, Executive Order 55 was recently “ reconstituted and strengthened” and among the amendments is the inclusion of the Department of Education in the Steering Committee which it had signally ignored. There is a law (Republic Act 10086) titled, “Strengthening People’s Nationalism through the Philippine History Act “ which mandates the State “to provide the means to strengthen Filipino people’s nationalism , love of country, respect for its heroes and pride for the people’s accomplishments by reinforcing the importance of Philippine national and local history in daily life, with the end in view of raising social consciousness.” How can you achieve all that without the Department of Education?

Executive Order 103 which has duly superseded Executive Order 55 aims to emphasize “ the role of the Philippines in the circumnavigation of the word” as well as the “victory of Lapu Lapu in the Battle of Mactan and other related events…” In addition, E.O.103 ultimate objective is “…to espouse a Filipino-centric point of view of the first circumnavigation of the world by underscoring the magnanimity, compassion and humanity of our ancestors in helping the impoverished crew of the expedition that traversed the Pacific Ocean and the courage and bravery of the warriors in Mactan which continue to serve as inspiration to our heroes and martyrs up to this day.” How unabashedly touristic, we are so hospitable, we welcome even those who wish to colonize us. We might be duking that out for another 500 years.