Want to ace English? Then learn Spanish

I found this textual meme in the Facebook group Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (Officialization of the Spanish Language in Filipinas). It compares the various inflections of the English verb do to that of its Spanish counterpart hacer. As you can see, the verb forms in English are not as numerously expressive compared to their Spanish versions.
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This is just one example why learning English is a piece of cake among native Spanish speakers. Picture this…
José Rizal, a native Spanish speaker, taught himself English. And he aced it.
Manuel L. Quezon, a native Spanish speaker, learned English in only about three weeks. He learned it on a steamship while traveling to the United States for the first time.
Claro M. Recto, a native Spanish speaker, mastered English in only three months.
The first Filipino short-story in the English language was written by a native Spanish speaker, Paz Márquez de Benítez of Lucena, Tayabas (where I was also born). That story, “Dead Stars”, was composed during the early years of US occupation. And when you read her story, its masterful language will make you stop and think how today’s Filipino fiction in English pales in comparison to hers. And to think that we’ve been learning English for more than a century while the English of Benítez’s era was still quite young.
José García Villa, our first National Artist in Literature who is also considered as one of the finest (if not indeed the finest) our country has ever produced when it comes to poetry, was another native Spanish speaker. He was highly acclaimed by critics not just here but also those in the United States.
And of course, there’s the one and only Nick Joaquín, the greatest Filipino writer in the English language, hands down. And, you guessed it, he was also a native Spanish speaker. A fact not known to many.
Why is this so? Because Spanish and English are both cognates. They have so many words that are similar or even identical. In layman’s terms, Spanish and English are “cousins”.
It is no wonder why our grandparents and great grandparents who received good education during the US occupation of our country spoke and wrote better English than us. And that is also why most of our literary greats in the English language (Joaquín, Villa, N.V.M. González, Trinidad Tarrosa, Paz M. Latorena, etc.) usually come from that epoch when Spanish was still the language.
Had we allowed the teaching of the Spanish language to continue in our curriculum, and had our government supported its usage, we would all be writing and speaking English much better than our North Américan invaders.

From excited foreword to grateful afterthought

A couple of years back, I excitedly announced in my now defunct Spanish blog that I was chosen to write for a coffee table book about the history of La Laguna Province. After almost two years of sleepless nights writing and doing field research, promoting it on social media, incurring trouble at the office because of several absences and tardiness, and capped by a press release on my accidental discovery of the province’s foundation date as well as defending it from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ “board of academic censors”, nothing came out of the said project. The publisher and I had a falling out while the provincial governor who was supposed to fund the project was  unceremoniously booted out from politics. That book was supposed to be my big break to become a well-known writer-historian. But it seems that bad luck is an unwanted twin of mine. Whenever my dreams are within arm’s reach, they start slipping right from my hands and crash down to the floor like fine chandelier.

When publication was nearing, I had my mentor, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, write the book’s foreword. I couldn’t think of nor imagine anyone else to write one for me. He is, after all, the epitome of an authentic Renaissance Man: a journalist, historian, poet, playwright, fictionist, linguist, folklorist, cartoonist, recording artist, and Spanish language teacher as well as instructor of Spanish dances (considered as the only “maestro de flamenco” of Filipinas). Few people may know this, but he is also a polyglot: aside from his mastery of Spanish, Hiligaynón, Quinaráy-a, English, and Tagálog, he also has a working knowledge of Chabacano Zamboangueño, Cavitén (Chabacano Caviteño), French, Hokkien, Cebuano, and Portuguese. In spite of his personal problems and health issues, he still manages to continue the difficult fight for the recognition of our true national identity. A great man like Don Guimò only comes once every one hundred years. That is why I call him as the GREATEST FILIPINO alive today.

La imagen puede contener: Pepe Alas y Guillermo Gómez Rivera, personas sonriendo, selfie

Unfortunately, my coffee table book will no longer see the light of day. So I thought of just publishing here Don Guimo’s foreword for that book. I am not a decorated writer nor historian, but his words for me are worth all the medals of the world.

     Having known José Mario “Pepe” Alas since his college student days at Adamson University, we never expected him to be capable of writing a history book with such serene impartiality and with the taught discipline of a seasoned historian. And more so the complex history of La Laguna, a province that means so much to the development of this country. We always thought that only a Nick Joaquín would be able to do that considering the uniqueness and the vastness of the latter’s accumulated knowledge and profound understanding of Philippine history, the Spanish language, the Filipino national identity, and the Filipino culture that encompasses all these intellectual disciplines.

     But Pepe has somehow been able to acquire the necessary conocimientos which is more than knowledge, to grasp and reproduce what is Filipino. He did take for granted, as is the case of many Filipino college students, his Spanish language subjects at Adamson University, but after he graduated and was faced with the challenges of survival, he accepted the casual job of a typist and was given the assignment to type a whole book in Spanish on the history of the Primera República de Filipinas, a thick compilation of documents, with their respective comments, by Spanish language academician, novelist, historian, and professor, Antonio M. Abad from Barili, Cebú.

     Although we know that this is not the only book in Spanish that he was forced to read, because he had to type it, Pepe must have had read some other books in Spanish on what is Filipino aside from those available in English. To our surprise, Pepe could speak to us in Spanish about Philippine History after going through this old Abad book and the other books, works, and literary pieces in this language that were found in our library.

    As an old teacher of the Spanish language, we know that the student, to acquire this language, needs to master four basic skills: the skill to read it, the skill to understand it, the skill to write in it, and, later, the final skill to speak it. And Pepe Alas from Parañaque City had sufficiently mastered the four enumerated skills. To top it all, he also mastered to a high degree the literary, historical, and cultural content of Spanish in the Philippines which, as a culmination, has formed his firm conviction as a Filipino, free from the current maladies of a colonial mentality vis-à-vis the present colonial master lording it over our country.  In short, Pepe is no longer a stranger in his own country which is expectedly miseducated, therefore ignorant of its true culture and true history. Pepe has freed himself from these maladies and anomalies of the mind and soul, and, because of this newfound freedom of his mind and his soul, he now loves his country in a much deeper way than most other Filipinos of his generation ever did or do.

     As he advanced in the field of employment, he settled in San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, with his wife and children and immediately identified himself as a native born lagunense interested in the history and prosperity of his adoptive province. From there, he realized that he had a new world to know and write about which is La Laguna. His research on the history of his adoptive province led him to discover the real founding date of La Laguna. He went through all the old and pertinent Spanish documents with great ease and discovered that La Laguna started as a Spanish encomienda under conquistador Martín de Goití in the sixteenth century.

     What is funny, if not something to be highly indignant about, is that the government office that supposedly works on the history of this country flatly denied and rejected this discovery because of an old U.S. WASP induced prejudice against the Spanish encomienda. Some employees in that government office on history had this prejudice against the encomienda because of the falsities taught to them in their history classes by an Americanized history teacher that never learned to see through the 1900 American sectarian propaganda against what is Spanish and Filipino in these islands. These de-Filipinized elements wrongly labeled an encomienda as a system of slavery and oppression when it is in the encomienda that our native Indio forefathers learned not only the predominant religion of Filipinos today but also learned a more advanced system of agriculture, a sophisticated cuisine, basic arts and trade, and all that a people needed to later form a pueblo and a municipio as we know them today.

     But the La Laguna Provincial Board, being open minded, quickly saw that this Alas discovery was logical and, therefore, correct. It eventually approved and recognized the date of the founding of La Laguna as a Spanish encomienda to be also the beginning of the legal entity that is this province today. An Inquirer article called Pepe an achiever who, as a young historian, discovered what others blindly ignored for so long. Kudos to the provincial governor and the La Laguna Provincial Board!

     Reading Pepe’s general history of La Laguna is a pleasure. The language is easy and all that is historical data are neatly interwoven to give an accurate picture of how La Laguna developed and how its people progressed through the years in spite of the vicissitudes that would disturb such advances. Credit is given to whosoever deserves it. As an historian, Pepe will never say, like Teodoro A. Agoncillo says on his “History of the Filipino People”, that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to define what a Filipino is”.  Pepe gives us the sensation that he exactly knows what is Filipino and that it is neither difficult nor impossible to define what it is. Because of his mastery of Spanish, Pepe Alas agrees with Teodoro M. Kálaw’s definition of what is Filipino, a definition that is, evidently, not “politically correct” nowadays, but which is accurate anyway you put it. Wrote Kálaw, and we quote him in his own language to avoid any mistranslation:

“Cuando se discute la capacidad de una raza para la autosuficiencia, todos los elementos y factores que intervinieron en su cultura, todas las generaciones anteriores, se someten a prueba. Y entrelazadas en esa exégesis está la obra de España y la obra de Filipinas indígena, dos civilizaciones que han venido uniéndose en una misma civilización que llamamos filipina sobre este suelo por casi cuatro siglos para luego constituir una vibrante nacionalidad, la que dio espíritu a la revolución y a la primera República de Filipinas.”

     La Laguna is, indeed, one of the oldest provinces of the Philippines because many of its original families have branched out to other places in this country. As a mere example and modesty aside—, this writer’s family, on both the paternal and maternal sides, traces its roots to La Laguna. Gómez comes from a 17th-century Spanish alférez from Pagsanján, Francisco Gómez, who married a Tagala named María Dimaculañgan, while Rivera traces its roots to nearby Pila. Upon a recent visit to the parish church of Pagsanján, this writer saw, from a list of donors, individuals that carried both surnames: Gómez and Rivera. There is always that inclination to come to Pagsanján and upon viewing the old and majestic arch at the beginning of what was Pagsanján’s Calle Real, a sensation of having been there becomes overpowering.  And then, there is the now almost abandoned Gómez mansion near the river while it is also at the rear of the old Church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the advocation of the Virgin Mary that merited the Pontifical titles of “Emperatriz de las Américas, Reina de México, y Patrona de Filipinas”. Aside from the famous Pagsanján Falls, the arch, the old bahay na bató houses, and the parish church are also tourist attractions.

     The attraction of La Laguna in general is great, and tourism is not a new phenomenon for Pagsanján. There is this bilingual sing-song of long ago that attests to what we say:

Muy bienvenidos
Sean ustedes
A nuestro pueblo
De Pagsanján.
Aquí tenemos
La maravilla
De veinte saltos
En un bancal.
Pero seguro
Es el paseo
En un raudal;
Porque las bancas
Son de arbol duro
Y los banqueros
De mucha sal.


Maganda nawâ
Ang ‘yong pagdayo
Dito sa amin
Sa Pagsanján;
Magarang arco,
Magandang bahay
Gawá sa tabla
At sa bató.
Ñgunit ang tunay
Na pañghalina
Ng bayan natin
Ay ang talón
Casama’ng daloy
Ng mananañgcang
Sanáy sa tulin
At sa tinô.

     La Laguna, as a center of Filipino culture, as expressed in song, dance, ritual, poetry, cuisine, and hospitality, is bound to advance. More so with the new crop of leaders it presently has to steer this vision onward.

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Twisting the Spanish conquest

In his Inquirer column today, lawyer Joel Butuyan wrote:

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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…

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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 amazon.com.

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 yore. 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.

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“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, sharp-teethed Outriders? I think you get the picture. 😊 But instead of that huge Stormbreaker, the Virgin held a small (but POWERFUL) 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. 😂

La imagen puede contener: una persona

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 pleaded to 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!