Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sto. Nino de Bernas, Conyo

This essay has also been posted at Filipino Voices today.

[R-18: Please do not touch me if for some reason you find a discussion of wooden, costumed idols personally offensive. More so avoid it, if you find a discussion of human, costumed idols offensive.]

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. was wearing his friar's zuccheto, a touch akimbo, in yesterday's column about the Sto. Nino feast and Chief Justice Reynato Puno where he says,
"The feast of the Sto. Niño reminds us that the earliest preachers of Christian values were lay soldiers...More than that, however, it is also a reminder that the destiny of this nation depends very much on the restoration and the strengthening of the values which Christianity first planted in the Philippines—the values of honesty, morality and love of neighbor."

One is forced to ask in all earnestness and concern: Does the good Father Bernas believe that before Christianity was planted in the Philippines that there were no honest and moral human beings who felt love for their neighbor?? Before the Catholic Taliban arrived, were we all dishonest, immoral savages, with hatred and enmity in our wild hearts?

Fray Bernas' entire rhetorical point in this column resides in a simile between Reynato Puno and famous "lay soldiers", in particular, Ferdinand Magellan--to prove the admirable point that laymen can be moral leaders too and it is not only to the Catholic Bishops that we ought to look for such leadership.

The unfortunate thing for Fray Bernas' simile is that Chief Justice Reynato Puno becomes the Right Reverend Reynato Puno every Sunday, when HE puts on the costume of a Methodist Minister! How do we know this? Well read Reynato Puno's speech at Siliman University where he mentions his Sunday morning activities.

Fray Bernas parabolically compares Chief Justice Puno first to St. John Baptist (who was the cousin of Jesus Christ, and therefore the Nephew of God the Father.) Then, lightly skipping over the Holy Roman Empire and the Dark Ages to around 1521, he finds traces of Ferdinand Magellan in the character and agenda of Reynato Puno's call for moral leaders to lift their "veil of invisiblity"
Magellan was met by King Humabon and his family, his courtiers and his followers. Filled with missionary zeal, Magellan preached to them about accepting Christianity. In their simplicity they responded and many of the natives were baptized together with the royal family.

On this occasion, as was the practice of conquistadors, Magellan left gifts behind. It is almost certain that one gift he offered was an image of the Sto. Niño.

That was in 1521. But as we know Magellan and his crew were driven away by the natives.

Well this is definitely one for the Textbook Crusaders like Antonio Calipje Go! Listen to what AMBETH OCAMPO says in his column of 14 January 2009:
Humabon Conversion Wasn't For Religion!
Historically, the image of the Santo Niño venerated in Cebu is the oldest image in the Philippines, unless this is challenged by the image of the Virgin of Ermita that was also found or “recovered” in the islands by the Legaspi expedition in the 16th century. The image of the Santo Niño was presented to the wife of Rajah Humabon when she was baptized in 1521. She was shown a crucifix and an image of the Virgin Mary but the Queen of Cebu, who was baptized and given the name Juana, was attracted to the Santo Niño and asked for it. Magellan was happy to part with it and after the Battle of Mactan, the Santo Niño remained in Cebu and was found by one of Legazpi’s men in 1565. We will go into the historical details about the Santo Niño in a succeeding column because when I re-read the account of the conversion of Humabon, as narrated by Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of the Magellan expedition, I realized there was nothing religious about it at all. Magellan threatened the “heathens” who refused to be converted with bodily harm; on the other hand, he promised aid and power to the king so that the latter could subdue his enemies.

Pigafetta described Magellan and Humabon embracing and later sitting on chairs of red and violet with chieftains and other notables on cushions: “The captain told the king through the interpreter that he thanked God for inspiring him to become a Christian; and that (now) he would more easily conquer his enemies than before. The king replied that he wished to become a Christian, but that some of his chiefs did not wish to obey.… Then our captain had all the chiefs of the king called, and told them that, unless they obeyed the king as their king, he would have them killed, and would give their possessions to the king.… The captain told the king that he was going to Spain but that he would return again with so many forces, that he would make him the greatest king of those regions, as he had been the first to express a determination to become a Christian.”

I have not read myself Pigafetta's diary of the Magellan voyage. But I think Ambeth's interpretation, based on just such a direct reading is more true-to-life. The boastful Magellan had convinced Humabon he would take care of Lapu-lapu. Instead he was, in the understatement of Fray Bernas, "driven away by the natives."

However, Magellan's death at the hands of Lapu-lapu is definitely proof-positive that he was an honorable man and that his pledge to Humabon to defeat his enemies was in earnest (after all he had threatened Humabon with the same if he did not convert!) Thus, when the survivors of the expedition (who had been dirven away by the natives) limped back to Spain and forty years later Miguel Lopez de Legaspi came calling, what should he find but the emblem of Magellan's compact with Humabon, the miraculous wooden idol, the Sto. Nino de Bernas, err, Cebu.

Now of course, Joaquin Bernas is better known as a "Constitutional Expert" and Dean of the Ateneo de Manila Law School, if I am not mistaken. He should stick to that and avoid trying to become a Catechism-cum-History teacher because this is most undignified and embarrassing for him. Why he mounted such a pathetic attempt to explain that it is okay for laymen to call for moral regeneration, is beyond my powers of Ignatian discernment. Does he really think the Catholic Church represents "moral leadership" to the Filipinos when their entire appreciation of History and their role in it is perverse and conceited.

But with the Swinging Door of Observation slightly ajar, let me call everybody's attention to the fact that although both Bernas and Ocampo are OpEd columnists, they are both widely cited as authoritative references by teachers and textbooks. But I wager that Bernas' take on Magellan will miseducate many more Filipinos about their history than Ambeth Ocampo's allergy-ridden sojourns into dusty libraries could ever remold. PDI's website claims millions of readers daily, both online and in print.

Sto. Nino de Bernas, conyo!


john marzan said...

Will Saletan of Slate dissects the birth control issue in the Philippines and the RCC.


Jego said...

From john marzan's link:

It looks as though the bishops' anti-contraceptive absolutism is driving their own flock into the arms of a totalitarian remedy.

I have always been critical of the Pinoy's penchant for government solutions, but this made me ponder the role the Roman Church plays in this. I have been against the reproductive health bill because it gives too much power to the State. What say you, DJB? Is the Church making the people probe to totalitarian solutions, or is our being prone to totalitarian solutions behind the enduring power of the Church in the Philippines?

DJB Rizalist said...

We are too unserious a people to actually carry out totalitarianism now on behalf of birth control.

The struggle is to unseat the Church on this issue to give the secular forces a chance to develop the reasonable, long term equilibrium solution.

It's a public policy matter being unfairly warped by religious bias and belief