Twisting the Spanish conquest

In his Inquirer column today, lawyer Joel Butuyan wrote:

La imagen puede contener: una persona, sonriendo, texto

Actually, a friend of mine (Rommel López of the Knights of Columbus) alerted me to this doltishness of a declaration, prompting me to tap a deceased non-lawyer, in fact a high school dropout, to teach this “well-learned” columnist-lawyer a lesson in history. So in my Facebook account, I shared the following:

Joel Butuyan (seasoned INC lawyer) vs Nick Joaquín (Catholic high school dropout). Take your pick.

BUTUYAN: The Spanish conquest obliterated almost everything that is Asian in our people, except the color of our skin.

JOAQUÍN: This is recognized even by those who deny it, as when they assert that 1521 marked a deviation from what might have been our true history; or when they fume that we were Christianized at the cost of our “Asian” soul; or when they argue that if the Philippines had only been completely converted to Islam by the 16th century, not all the arms of the West could have turned us into “Filipinos”. Now that is absolutely true; and the argument can be extended with the observation that only, by the 16th century, the Philippines were already Buddhist, or Taoist, or Hindu, or Confucian, or Shintoist, the West would have conquered us in vain, because, being already formed by the media of the great civilizations of the East, we would be in little danger of deviating from that Asian form. What a different kind of Christian, for instance, we might have been if we had been evangelized, not by Spaniards, but by the Nestorian Christians of Asia; and what a truly “Asian” art we might have had if our first teachers in painting had been the Japanese and not the Europeans. But the office of the historian is not to relate what might have happened but to inquire why it did not — and in this case the answer is one we have been so shyly refusing to face as fact, though it stares us in the face, that it may be for the best to have it stated bluntly at last:
If it be true indeed that we were Westernized at the cost of our Asian soul, then the blame must fall, not on the West, but on Asia…
…We say we were Christianized to our cultural disaster. Do we ever ask why we were not Buddhicized, or Taoicized, or Hinduicized, or Confucianized, or Shintocized, or Islamicized, to our cultural salvation? The reason cannot have been doctrinal timidity, for the great East Asian religions produced missionaries every bit as aggressive as any Paul of Tarsus.

The foregoing rebuttal is from the late National Artist’s famous essay “Culture and History”.

By the way, the lawyer boasted that history is one of his leisure indulgences, and that writing about olden times gives him a welcome break from the toxic chore of writing about law and politics. He also boasted that one of his prized possessions as an amateur history buff is the 55-volume “Blair and Robertson”, a most sought-after compendium among students of history.

In comparison, when Nick was alive, he never declared the same: he didn’t tell anyone that history was one of his “leisure indulgences”. Neither did he boast of all the history books that he had read just to show how profound his thinking was when it comes to knowledge of history. He simply let his knowledge (with a logic to die for) do the talking. 😉

So now we have a lesson not just in history but also a lesson in humility. So yes, dear reader, take your pick.


Joaquín’s translation of Rizal’s “Mi Último Adiós

A few years ago, Señor Gómez and I were discussing the last poem that Rizal wrote, as well as its several translations. When we got to the part about Nick Joaquín’s translation, I could never forget his words: Joaquín’s English version of “Mi Último Adiós” is one instance wherein the translation is far more superior compared  to the original. I never gave it much thought until then. So off I went to review both poems later on. I also compared Joaquín’s version to other well-known English translations (Charles Derbyshire, Encarnación Alzona, etc.). I could say that Joaquín’s has more depth and mystery. But since I’m not exactly a fully bloomed poet in Spanish, it’s hard to tell if I could agree on Señor Gómez’s observation.

People who read this now will argue that it’s really just a matter of opinion. However, it should be noted that Señor Gómez is a poet in four languages: Spanish, English, Tagálog, and Hiligaynón. Furthermore, it is no secret that he tends to be more leaning towards the Spanish language compared to English. Nevertheless, a website dedicated to José Rizal and his works seems to agree with him: “In many translated Rizal works, one writer stands out: Nick Joaquín”.

Without further ado, here is Joaquín’s English rendering of Mi Último Adiós…

Image result for Nick Joaquin jose rizal's valedictory poem

Joaquín’s translation of “Mi Último Adiós” is included in this book.


Land that I love: farewell: O land the sun loves:
Pearl of the sea of the Orient: Eden lost to your brood!
Gaily go I to present you this hapless hopeless life:
Were it more brilliant: had it more freshness, more bloom:
Still for you would I give it: would give it for your good!

In barricades embattled, fighting in delirium,
Others give you their lives without doubts, without gloom.
The site nought matters: cypress, laurel or lily:
Gibbet or open field: combat or cruel martyrdom
Are equal if demanded by country and home.

I am to die when I see the heavens go vivid,
announcing the day at last behind the dead night.
If you need colorcolor to stain that dawn with,
Let spill my blood: scatter it in good hour:
And drench in its gold one beam of the newborn light.

My dream when a lad, when scarcely adolescent:
My dreams when a young man, now with vigor inflamed:
Were to behold you one day: Jewel of eastern waters:
Griefless the dusky eyes: lofty the upright brow:
Unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished and unashamed!

Enchantment of my life: my ardent avid obsession:
To your health! Cries the soul, so soon to take the last leap:
To your health! O lovely: how lovely: to fall that you may rise!
To perish that you may live! To die beneath your skies!
And upon your enchanted ground the eternities to sleep!

Should you find some day somewhere on my gravemound, fluttering
Among tall grasses, a flower of simple fame:
Caress it with your lips and you kiss my soul:
I shall feel on my face across the cold tombstone:
Of your tenderness, the breath; of your breath, the flame.

Suffer the moon to keep watch, tranquil and suave, over me:
Suffer the dawn its flying lights to release:
Suffer the wind to lament in murmurous and grave manner:
And should a bird drift down and alight on my cross,
Suffer the bird to intone its canticle of peace.

Suffer the rains to dissolve in the fiery sunlight
And purified reascending heavenward bear my cause:
Suffer a friend to grieve I perished so soon:
And on fine evenings, when prays in my memory,
Pray alsoO my land!that in God I repose.

Pray for all who have fallen befriended by not fate:
For all who braved the bearing of torments all bearing past:
To our poor mothers piteously breathing in bitterness:
For widows and orphans: for those in tortured captivity
And yourself: pray to behold your redemption at last.

And when in dark night shrouded obscurely the graveyard lies
And only, only the dead keep vigil the night through:
Keep holy the place: keep holy the mystery.
Strains, perhaps, you will hearof zither, or of psalter:
It is IO land I love!it is I, singing to you!

And when my grave is wholly unremembered
And unlocated (no cross upon it, no stone there plain):
Let the site be wracked by the plow and cracked by the spade
And let my ashes, before they vanish to nothing,
As dust be formed a part of your carpet again.

Nothing then will it matter to place me in oblivion!
Across your air, your space, your valleys shall pass my wraith!
A pure chord, strong and resonant, shall I be in your ears:
Fragrance, light and color: whispers, lyric and sigh:
Constantly repeating the essence of my faith!

Land that I idolized: prime sorrow among my sorrows:
Beloved Filipinas, hear me the farewell word:
I bequeath you everythingmy family, my affections:
I go where no slaves arenor butchers: nor oppressors:
Where faith cannot kill: where God’s the sovereign lord!

Farewell, my parents, my brothersfragments of my soul:
Friends of old and playmates in childhood’s vanished house:
Offer thanks that I rest from the restless day!
Farewell, sweet foreignermy darling, my delight!
Creatures I love, farewell! To die is to repose.

A useless rampage

Back when we were kids, we were taught in school how the U.S. saved us from the Japanese in 1945. We were never told anything about how Manila was obliterated during the so-called “liberation”, how more than a hundred thousand lives were sacrificed, and how useless it all was considering the fact that the Japanese Empire was about to surrender anytime soon.

Recently, the Los Ángeles Times published a book review written by Bob Drogin on a new book about the horrid consequences of World War II in Filipinas. Titled Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila, the book in question “focuses in part on the 7,500 or so Americans and others held as prisoners of war or civilian internees in squalid conditions, and their dramatic rescue by U.S. troops”. While many books have already dealt with the subject, Drogin comments that author James M. Scott has added “a heart-rending portrayal of the brutal life” experienced by these POWs. Drogin also notes that the author has broken new ground “by mining war crimes records, after-action military reports and other primary sources for the agonizing testimony of Philippine survivors and witnesses of more than two dozen major Japanese atrocities during the battle — and the ferocious American response”.

"Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila" by James M. Scott

To the Filipino history buff, the best part about this book is that Rampage is written not by a fellow Filipino but by a U.S. historian, in fact a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist. When the author comments in his book that “it was hard to tell who had done more damage — the Japanese defenders or the American liberators”, it would be difficult to accuse him of historical bias. Nevertheless, his confusion was already answered years ago by Nick Joaquín, the country’s premiere historian and 1976 National Artist for Literature. Joaquín had the privilege of interviewing several survivors of the Battle for Manila, leading him to conclude that it was both “Yank and Jap together that razed Intramuros”. Intramuros here, of course, meant “the original Manila“, the nerve center, the battlefield itself. But Joaquín’s mentioning of Intramuros should not mean that the Walled City’s suburbs (Ermita, Malate, etc.) were excluded from the useless U.S. rampage. As observed by a friend of mine, thousands of lives would not have been lost, and heritage buildings as well as other establishments would have been spared from destruction, had Gen. Douglas MacArthur simply waited for the Japanese to surrender after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would have certainly led to that end, anyway.

Here’s an excerpt of Drogin’s book review:

It’s hard to imagine that a major month-long battle from World War II — one that devastated a large city, caused more than 100,000 civilian deaths and led to both a historic war crimes trial and a Supreme Court decision — should have escaped scrutiny until now.

But history has somehow overlooked the catastrophic battle for Manila, capital of the Philippines, in the waning months of the war. Like the Rape of Nanking, or the siege of Stalingrad, the tragedy of Manila deserves far greater understanding and reflection today.

James M. Scott remedies that gap with “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila,” the first comprehensive account of one of the darkest chapters of the Pacific War. It is powerful narrative history, one almost too painful to read in places but impossible to put down.

It begins as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the egotistical military commander of the U.S. colony in the Philippines, was caught woefully unprepared when the war began. Japanese bombers destroyed his planes on the ground and American and Philippine forces were soon overwhelmed. MacArthur famously vowed to return as he was evacuated to Australia.

Three years later, the U.S. Navy had steadily clawed its way back across the Pacific and bombers were already striking Japanese industrial centers. Most commanders saw “no need to risk American lives on a costly invasion of the Philippines” when the fall of Japan appeared imminent, Scott writes.

Read the rest of the review here.

The ruins of Manila after a useless battle. Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila can be ordered via

2018 National Artists

The Order of the National Artists of the Philippines is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of fine arts in the country, namely: Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film, Broadcast Arts, and Architecture and Allied Arts. The order is jointly administered by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (by virtue of President Ferdinand Marcos’s Proclamation № 1001 of 2 April 1972) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The award is given irregularly and is conferred by the President of Filipinas upon recommendation by both institutions.

Through the decades since the first National Artist medal was awarded to critically acclaimed painter Fernando Amorsolo in 1972, many of the biggest names in Filipino arts and literature have graced the ranks of the Order of the National Artists such as writer Nick Joaquín (1976), musician Levi Celerio (1997), and film director Eddie Romero (2003). Selecting a national artist is based on a broad criteria, and the selection process for nominees is strict. Works of art of those who are nominated should not only conform to set standards of aesthetics; they should have also distinguished themselves among their peers by having pioneered a mode of creative expression or style, and they should have made an impact on succeeding generations of artists, among other criteria. In fact, back in 2009, controversy erupted when some of the nominees were blocked by several incumbent National Artists (including the indefatigable F. Sionil José), members of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, and various academicians who claimed that their nomination was politicized by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she favored them due to friendship over artistic quality. The issue even reached the Supreme Court (in the end, the court of last resort voted to boot out those nominated by Arroyo).

Early today, filmmaker Sari Dalena broke the news on her Facebook account that a new batch of National Artists has been declared. Interestingly, one of those who figured in the 2009 controversy, architect Francisco Mañosa, made it to the list. Here they are in alphabetical order:

1) Larry Alcalá (Visual Arts, posthumous)
2) Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio (Theater)
3) Ryan Cayabyab (Music)
4) Francisco Mañosa (Architecture)
5) Resil Mojares (Literature)
6) Ramón Muzones (Literature)
7) Kidlat Tahimik (Film)


Top left to bottom right: Larry Alcalá, Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, Ryan Cayabyab, Francisco Mañosa, Resil Mojares, Ramón Muzones, and Kidlat Tahimik.

Official conferment will be held tomorrow at the CCP. Congratulations to the winners!


The Holy League: the first Avengers

Our Lady of the Rosary Nuestra Señora del Rosario— holds a special place in the hearts of Filipinos of old. As connoted by the blessed title, it is connected the most to the Rosary. According to Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Dominic (Santo Domingo de Guzmán) in 1206 and gave him the world’s first rosary beads, hence the Marian title. But why is October reserved by Catholics as the Month of the Holy Rosary?

The answer lies in foreign history oceans away from ours: the Battle of Lepanto, one of the greatest naval battles in world history. It was a naval warfare waged between the Liga Sancta and the Ottoman Empire that took place off the coasts of Lepanto (now Nafpaktos in Greece) on 7 October 1571. The Battle of Lepanto was the last great battle between Christians and Muslims.

The Battle of Lepanto of 1571 full version by Juan Luna.jpg

“La Batalla de Lepanto“, oil on canvas by Juan Luna (1887).

During the late 16th century, Christendom in Europe was facing a huge threat from the formidable Ottoman Empire especially since the latter controlled maritime power in the Mediterranean Sea. They even regularly raided the coastal cities of Italy, the seat of the Papal States. So when the Ottoman Turks were set to invade Cyprus, Pope Pius V was compelled to form the Liga Sancta, or Holy League, that was composed of several Catholic maritime states, including that of our former king, Felipe II or Philip II, from whom our country was named, and his half-brother, 24-year-old John of Austria.

It was Don John of Austria who became the over-all admiral of the Holy League against the Ottoman Turks. Before the naval confrontation, he successfully formed armies from volunteers across Christian Europe while Pope Pius V rallied their spirits with the power of the Rosary. What is remarkable is that these men, about 28,500 soldiers (one of whom was a young Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s most celebrated writer) and 40,000 sailors and oarsmen, prepared for war not only through military training but through prayer and fasting, imploring the aid of God’s grace through the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

Come battle time, the Christians found themselves heavily outnumbered: the Muslims had more than 81,000 men! Indeed, only today’s imagination could determine how fearful or courageous was the temperament of each and every soldier of Christ during that moment at sea, when Western civilization was at stake. But being outnumbered by the enemy did not deter the commanders of the beleaguered Holy League to carry on, lest they lose Europe and the rest of the world to infidels. At the frontlines of the order of battle against the Turks was a who’s who of European Christendom: Venetian nobleman Agostino Barbarigo helmed the left wing, Italian admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria commandeered the right, while young and dashing John of Austria himself led the central command.

In the thick of battle, the Christian warriors, with swords and guns and rosaries, were invoking the name of the Mother of God asking for her intercession. Strangely enough, she appeared: with sword in one hand and a rosary in the other (many Christian fighters swore to have seen this apparition). This miracle provided the tired and wounded soldiers of Christ renewed energy to drive away the enemy. Towards the end of the day, their prayers were answered: the Ottoman Turks were defeated as more than 30,000 Muslim warriors perished during the battle. Several thousands more were taken as prisoners while hundreds of their galleys were either sunken, burned, or captured. There were Christian casualties, but smaller: 10,000 fighters perished. But as consolation to those lost lives, thousands of Christian slaves who were with the Muslim fleet during the battle were saved. And only less than 20 galleys from the Holy League were lost in the battle.

The Christian victory at Lepanto was the decisive turning point in which control of the Mediterranean Sea was finally taken away from centuries of oppressive Turkish rule. The Islamic Empire was never able to recover since then. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Holy League credited the victory not to themselves but to the Virgin Mary, whose intercession with God they had implored for victory through the power of the Rosary. That is why Pope Pius V, the brains behind the Holy League, instituted the feast day of Our Lady of Victory every October 7th, as well as the month of the Rosary every October, to commemorate Christendom’s exceptional victory at the Battle of Lepanto. The name of the feast day has since been changed in 1913 to the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The astonishing Battle of Lepanto can be likened to today’s big-budget Hollywood films, more so with the epic battle scene seen recently in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Avengers: Infinity War”. We could even go a step further by pointing out that the Holy League composed of King Philip II’s imperial army, Don John of Austria, Sebastiano Venier of Venice, Marcantonio Colonna, and a host of others was the first Avengers. Pope Pius V served as the group’s Nick Fury. As for Our Lady of the Rosary… remember Thor’s surprise appearance in Wakanda in the said film just when our superheroes were close to being overwhelmed by Thanos’s four-armed Outriders? I think you get the picture. 😊 But instead of that huge Stormbreaker, the Virgin held a small rosary.

And yes, we can consider Miguel de Cervantes (who, by the way, was shot thrice during the battle) and reserve commander Álvaro de Bazán as their Marvel Netflix allies. 😂

Image: La Naval de Manila Facebook page.

While the climax of the Battle of Lepanto can be likened to that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest epic film, the battle itself has a mystical connection to Filipino history. Several decades later, the Virgin Mary once again had a special role in yet another battle, this time against another group of infidels who were craving for our shores: the Protestant Dutch. Nick Joaquín, poetic champion of beer and rosary, wrote the following in one of his most famous essays, the “La Naval de Manila“.

The Church was quick to acknowledge the role of Mary at Lepanto; October 7, the date of the victory, has ever since been her feast as Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, a feast and an avocation of hers around which maritime traditions consequently clustered: the Virgin of the Beads is popularly a Virgin of Sea Battles, a Virgin of Naval Victories. Some eighty years after Lepanto, she was again to justify those titles, to manifest her power in the faraway Orient of the conquistadores, to wield her mighty beads in favor of a handful of islands: the small necklace-like archipelago that had been named after the brother of the Lepanto hero.

The 1646 Dutch attacks, now known as the Battles of La Naval de Manila, occurred five times, between March 15 and October 4 (amazingly just a few days short of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto!). All those attacks were thwarted by the combined forces of Spaniards and Filipinos who, before going to battle, also asked helped from the Virgin for her intercession. So once more, as what had happened in Lepanto, many participants of the battles against the Dutch affirmed that they saw Our Lady fighting with them!

To give thanks to God for those five naval victories, the first celebration of La Naval de Manila was held on 8 October 1646. The 16th-century image of Nuestra Señora del Santísimo Rosario —Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary— served as her representation.

May we make it a point to pray the Rosary every day, not only during the month of October. But on this day, may we pray it with more earnest, for it was exactly on this day centuries ago when God manifested to man that He can make the Heavens join them in battle against bloodthirsty infidels and other worldly evils if only they pray the Rosary fervently.

—¡Viva la Virgen del Rosario!—

Sagisag Kultura TV: Nick Joaquín

The whole world probably knows how much of a big fan I am of Nick Joaquín, National Artist for Literature. His name and works are mentioned in many of my blogposts (including in those blogs that I’ve already shut down). So let’s up the ante a li’l bit more till this world gets so sick of my Joaquinesque fanboying that it would spit me out to another realm in this vast multiverse — hopefully in a realm where “Summer filled the yard with sunflowers / and the hillsides with tiny bitter blackberries”, where everyone happily greets each other “Dahling!”, where Connie Escobar wields a Billiken toward the sky so as to bare her double-naveled midriff, where Maita Gatdula no longer “disdains as shabby and shady / all doings of babyhood”, where Leonardo and Lydia are safe from the bloodcurdling shadows of that fearful house on Zapote Street, where all of us can love the color of green forever, a place where the General did not forsake the Camino Real, where the Walled City and its seven great churches all stand in festive pomp and golden pageantry (still smelling of oranges and roasted almonds), where Paula and Cándida and their father and all their friends carry on with their tertulias, where Doña Jerónima’s laughter can be heard in all caves, where Maytime memories and festive Octobers in Manila are one and the same, where water is San Miguel Beer and all trees bear rosary beads, where kilometric sentences are not an issue…

…and where the La Naval is eternally queen.

If you are not yet familiar with the greatest Filipino writer in the English language (whose first language was Spanish, if I may add), I hope that this highly informative and very laudable documentary produced by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts under its Sagisag Kultura TV project will serve as an introduction of sorts to the quintessential Filipino that was Nick Joaquín. And I pray that on your next visit to a bookstore, you’d bring home a book or two bearing his name. Doing so will make you love your country and its wondrous past even more…

Let me arise and follow that river
back to its source: I would bathe my bones
among the chaste rivulets that quiver
out of the clean primeval stones.

—Nick Joaquín—


History is not just about heroes

I noticed that many popular historians today, including various Facebook groups and pages tackling Filipino History, focus mainly on personalities (José Rizal, Andrés Bonifacio, Gregorio del Pilar, etc.), if not events (Cavite Mutiny, 1896 Tagálog Rebellion, the first at-large national election of 1935, etc.). But history is not limited to people and explosive occurrences. We should also consider the coming of tools as history, as media that changed people’s outlook towards everything else. The bahay na bató, the calendar, book printing, the introduction of new crops, and even the cuchara and tenedor have all contributed to the evolution of what is now the Filipino. May these historians up their game so that their fans would not become mere hero worshipers.

Related image

So what in the world am I talking about? Just go to your nearest bookstore and grab a copy of Nick Joaquín’s iconic Culture and History and find out for yourselves. After a thorough reading of this book, I assure you 100% that you will LOL at many of today’s Filipino historians.