A Filipino’s view of conquest
Manila Bay in the late 1500s with Sangley Point, Cavite in the foreground
History is written by the victors. That old saying is certainly true in the Philippines. Most colonial history has come down to us from Spanish authors who believed they were bringing civilization and the “one true religion” to a bunch of “indios” – that was the term Spaniards used for those who now call themselves Filipino. (For this article, we’ll stick to using the modern term in place of Indio.) It’s rare to find a story from the Filipino’s point of view and even rarer to hear the opinions of a non-Christian Filipino who resisted Spanish rule.
A Franciscan priest, Fray Juan Pobre de Zamora recorded one such story at the turn of the 17th century. His account, entitled The History of the loss and discovery of the galleon San Felipe, was about a voyage he’d made in 1596. He was traveling from Manila to Mexico when a typhoon marooned the passengers and crew in a town called Hirado in Japan. Zamora was stranded there for almost two years and during that time he befriended a fellow passenger, a Christian Bikolano named Tomas.
One chapter of Zamora’s manuscript recounts a conversation with Tomas in which he tells the priest about a Bikolano chieftain from Gumaca (now in Quezon province) who did not want to convert to Christianity. Tomas even translates a Bikolano letter from the man written in the baybayin script. Their dialogue offers a unique and interesting glimpse into early colonial life from a Filipino’s point of view.
Here are some excerpts from Zamora’s manuscript, translated from the Spanish by Father Cayetano Sanchez Fuertes in 1983. It was reproduced in W.H. Scott’s book, Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino. I have edited it for length and made changes to clarify the narrative.
The setting is Hirado, Japan, sometime in the year 1596 or 1597. Fray Juan is bemoaning the sinful ways of his fellow Spaniards whom he says should be more thankful to God for sparing their lives in the recent typhoon, which wrecked their ship. Tomas tells Fray Juan that such unruly behaviour among the Spaniards is why so many Filipinos have resisted Christianity. He then begins to tell Fray Juan the story of one such Filipino –
Tomas tells Fray Juan about his friend, a Bikol Chief called Panpanga
“I know a Filipino called Panpanga from my place, from whom I have a letter he wrote to his brother in which, to our shame, he gives an account of the reasons he did not become a Christian.”
“I would be very pleased to hear it,” said Fray Juan.
So, taking the letter out of his shirt, he said, “Here it is in Tagalog letters. Let’s go to town and on the way I’ll explain the circumstances that led this Filipino to write it, and then I’ll translate it into Spanish.”
As they started down the mountain and came out on the plain, Tomas began, “When I came from Gumaca, which is on the opposite coast [from Manila], where I am a native, a Filipino chieftain came with me called Simahon. We reached Manila, where we became Christians. This Filipino had a brother and sister in our town. He wrote them a letter in which he advised them that if they did not become Christians they would go to Hell, and prayed them to come to Manila and stay in his house and be baptised and then they could return to our town.
“After reading the devout Filipino’s letter, his brother and sister came to Manila at once and stayed in his house. The sister, called Aliway, was quickly converted because she didn’t go out of the house, and she was given the name Catalina. But the brother, called Panpanga, could not be persuaded to convert, and despite everything Simahon said, his brother was unmoved and held his peace, though sometimes he would say, ‘Very well, we’ll think it over carefully.’
“And so he would go out every day and take a walk around Manila returning to his brother’s house in the evening. Simahon would ask him how Manila struck him and how soon he expected to become a Christian. Panpanga would respond to him in few words for he was a judicious man.
‘Brother, the things that seem good to me are few and those that seem evil many. Let us go on thinking it over carefully, for I see few good deeds but many good words with bad deeds.’
“So in this way he stayed half a year in his brother’s house, and when the time came that the cargo arrived from the galleons Santo Tomas and Santa Potenciana, Panpanga went around observing the trafficking and disorder in Manila during those days. And, eager to see the ships themselves, he told his brother he would go to Cavite and see the ships where they brought so many goods. But when he reached the port of Cavite and saw the great confusion and the swearing and greed with which they went about unloading, he was frightened.
“He returned to Manila, arriving in the afternoon, and, passing down a street near Santo Domingo, in a house I know very well, he saw that they were making bales and tying them with rattan at great speed and a Spaniard was pushing the Filipinos so much that Panpanga stopped to watch with two or three other Filipinos. After he was there a little while watching the great care they were putting into the work, the owner happened to look out the doorway and see them watching what he was doing. He came out very angry but very slyly and suddenly grabbed Panpanga, for the others saw him coming. The Spaniard pulled him inside and told him to help those Filipinos get the work done quicker and he would pay him for it. Since Panpanga was a Filipino chieftain, he told him he didn’t know how to do that kind of work, and the Spaniard, whom I know very well, punched him three or four times and told him, ‘I’ll get you a teacher.’ And he pushed him inside without listening to him and closed him up in a room with three other Filipinos and kept him there for four days, when, by dint of slaps and kicks and being pushed around by the neck, Panpanga became an expert in short order.”
“As they do every day,” said Fray Juan, “and did he pay him afterwards?”
“Yes, for after he had finished,” said Tomas, “because Panpanga asked for his wages, the Spaniard gave him for the four days, two kicks, not counting the blows he had already received. And then, to salve his conscience, the Spaniard ordered him given a ganta of rice, and when Panpanga didn’t want it, gave him a slap in the face. And since it looked as if he was going to lock him up again in the room, Panpanga gave a leap and got out on the street and went to his brother’s house.
Filipinos abducted for forced labour. (Image: Philippine National Library)
“On seeing Panpanga so thin and changed, his brother, Simahon asked him why he had stayed so long in Cavite.
“‘It was five days ago I left Cavite,’ said Panpanga, ‘and a Spaniard got me and kept me in his house for four of them, where the pay he gave me was blows. And if you don’t believe it, look where he punched me this morning.’
‘‘‘Have patience,’ said Simahon, ‘because for us, this is the path to Heaven.’
“And, since Panpanga was so judicious, he said, ‘And for the Spaniards, what is the path?’
“‘If they are bad,’ said Simahon, who is now called Antonio, ‘they will go to Hell, and those who are good will go to the glory of Heaven.’
“‘But where are those good ones that I don’t see them?’
“‘Don’t you see all the religious, those who serve God by day and by night?’
“‘So, tell me, brother,’ said Panpanga, ‘is your God and that of the friars one and that of the Spaniards another?’
“‘No, brother,’ said Simahon. ‘Because everybody has one God and there is no other.’
“‘So how is it that most of them speak evil of their God?’
“‘How do they speak evil?’ said Simahon.
“‘Suppose you go to Cavite and you will see how bad they treat their God. Otherwise, go to the house of that Spaniard where I went, and you will see how he treats Him.’
“‘Do not think,’ said Simahon, ‘that when they swear or curse and make some oath they are speaking evil of the God by this.’
“‘I cannot believe that they are saying good, because what they say, they say very angrily. Therefore, my brother, you stay here with your God for I am going to go back to my tinggis (highlands).
“And, so saying and doing, he left his brother’s house. And for all that Simahon begged him to stay he could not persuade him. Nor did Panpanga wish to take his sister back again, either, because she was a Christian. Thus he left for our town of Gumaca, and feeling that he was not safe even there, because it was a port that the Spaniards regularly frequented coming or going to Camarines and the Bicol River, he crossed the gulf of the sea in front of Gumaca and went up into the highlandswhere he had his heritage and fields. And in such manner did he excite the hearts of the Filipinos with his arrival, that all those whom he met he not only told not to become Christians, but even to avoid going to Manila. And they were frightened and excited with what Panpanga told them. And he, after seeing himself free among those mountains, wrote a letter to his brother, which he then gave to me.”
“I would be very pleased to see it,” said Fray Juan.
Panpanga’s letter to his brother Antonio Simahon:
It will be almost a year ago that I received a letter from you, and went there as soon as I saw it, together with your sister – for she is no longer mine, since she is a Christian, and let herself be misled like a woman. But I, as a man, know how to think carefully before I act, and so I went to your Manila, looking around and observing what went on, and all I can tell you is that never have I seen men of more war and less peace among themselves than the Spaniards.
Half a year I was in that place, and rarely did I see quarrelling among the Chinese and Japanese. And as for us, you know very well how few quarrels we have. And although in ancient times we used to make war among ourselves, since the Spaniards came, we have all lived in peace and they were left with the fighting. In half a year I saw quarrels there in Manila more than a hundred times, and the one day I went to Cavite, I saw more than six arguments among those on the galleon. And some Spaniards killed two other Spaniards in just half a year.
When I went through Parian, I found Spaniards quarrelling with the Chinese every day, and because they did not give them their goods for what they wanted, they would threaten them with violence, and kick and slap them and grab them by the neck, and call them queers, cuckolds, thieves, traitors, dogs, Moros, and other names for which there are no words among us. And we Filipinos, they called us karabaws [buffalos].
Sometimes I also went to the governor’s house and saw the armed soldiers who were always gambling and speaking evil of their God, and this as angry as if they were crocodiles, so wild they were.
I also went up into the governor’s house and saw others who were writing as clerks, and, as you know, in the law suit, which one from our town filed, they took twelve pesos for just two or three papers which he made, and as for me, they took my gold chain and because I defended it, kicked me, besides what that Spaniard gave me, which I told you.
You often told me that your God orders them not to steal or do evil nor covet anybody else’s goods. Either you lied to me when you said that, or your God orders the opposite, because I saw Spaniards in the marketplace stealing whatever they could from the Chinese, and not wanting to pay them for what they had bought.
I also saw with what great greed they went to unload the galleon, doing much harm to the Filipinos during that time, and then also speaking evil of God.
Once I saw some priests quarrelling inside the church, and a Spaniard killed near it. Therefore I tell you that from here on, don’t you or your sister call yourselves my brother and sister, but, myself, I want to go up to the tinggis (highlands) and walk through these mountains and, as is my nature, eat camote roots and bananas in peace among these karabaws and deer, and here I will remain with my natural friends.
Panpanga eventually did become a Christian, if the abrupt turnaround at the end of Zamora’s account is to be believed. Apparently, Zamora’s brothers in the Franciscan Order went into the mountains and were able to convert Panpanga through the example of their holy lives. Seeing his conversion, many of his followers were also persuaded to come down from the mountains and become Christians in the town of Gumaca.
- Scott, William Henry. Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino : And Other Essays in Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1992.