Conquista: How we were subjugated (Manila Times Walking History)
By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua
July 25, 2020
EVEN after many attempts, the Spaniards would only get lucky 44 years after our ancestors’ victory over Ferdinand Magellan.
The new conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi read his history well and knew better. A previous explorer already named the islands “Felipinas,” in honor of the prince of Spain, later King Philip 2nd. When Legazpi arrived here in 1565, he was more diplomatic. The King of Bohol, Sikatuna, welcomed him with the sandugo ritual. Many read this as the beginning of our colonization, for the Spaniards saw this act as agreeing to be subjugated when in fact, our ancestors were only affirming an act of goodwill and brotherhood that should have been reciprocated with faithfulness.
Joined by an able sailor and former soldier, the Spanish Augustinian friar Andres de Urdaneta, Legazpi settled in Cebu, and then in 1569 transferred his base to the town of Pan-ay. What was believed before that the Visayans were docile, that’s why thousands of them allowed the occupation of a few hundred Spaniards, is not true. They actually wanted to use the foreigners to get back at the people who plundered their lands. So, Legazpi launched an attack on the people of Mindoro in 1570 with thousands of Visayan warriors, and in the process, explored and eventually conquered the strategic Kingdom of Maynila and its environs after a year. The Spaniards employed the time-tested playbook of divide and rule. This started the long process of exploring, convincing and conquering of various areas in the islands — a process known as conquista.
It has to be clarified that Filipinos did not give up their sovereignty. There was still no Filipino nation yet at that time, so the local leaders who collaborated did so in the perceived interest of their peoples. These former datus were simply integrated into the new system as the local officials or the principalia, doubling as tax collectors. Yet they were only placed third as a social class along with the mestizos. Since race signifies your class, the Spaniards who were born in Spain, called peninsulares, placed first, and the Spaniards born in the colony, the insulares, placed second. Down the line, the former free people, the former timawa, were now given a derogatory appellation, “indio.”
Still, some resisted. Early during Legazpi’s arrival in Manila in 1571, a valiant nameless hero from Macabebe, Pampanga, north of Manila, went to Bangkusay, Tondo in Manila Bay to challenge the Spaniards. In the face of promises from the Spaniards, he told their emissaries brandishing his sword at them, “May the sun split my body in twain, and may I fall in disgrace before my women for them to hate me, if I ever became for a moment friend to the Castillans.”
He was one of the first to die in the battle, and the very first hero to die for freedom facing the Spaniards. Even the Spanish friar who recorded his story has nothing but admiration for him, calling him the bravest Filipino ever seen.
The Spaniards might have appeared formidable with their rapier swords and harquebuses but it might not have been the soldier who gained more lands and hearts in the islands for Spain. In some instances, it only took one man: the friar. For teaching the Catholic faith to the lowland Filipinos, especially to children, proved far more effective in making the indio accept colonialism than fear. This doesn’t mean though that the indio’s old faith was removed, for culture was actually very flexible and dynamic. It is as if our ancestors saw in Catholicism reminders of our own faith in the spirit of the anito, kaluluwa and the Bathala, and so we practiced it as our own, dancing and performing the old rituals of prayer and thanksgiving.
But the power of an idea to conquer the islands was established: Which is that the Spaniards gifted our ancestors the Catholic faith, hence we owe them our salvation and hope.
Since our ancestors lived near the rivers and seas, the Spaniards implemented the reduccion, placing them under the system of pueblos, to solidify their hold on power. In arranging how the houses were placed in between those squared Roman grid patterns of roads called the cuadricula, they also aimed to redesign the minds of the people to make the church and the government the center of their lives by placing their buildings at the center — the plaza. The powerful lived near the plaza, the indios farther in the nayon. The subjugated were placed within hearing distance of the church bells, a bajo de las campanas.
The sultanates of the Muslims in Mindanao resisted the conquista and remained free. Some also fled to the mountains where the sound of the bells didn’t reach them, and continued their culture and spirit of freedom. They are now the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.