Duterte Spurns 500th Anniversary of Christianity in Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-LakasBayan (PDP-LABAN) meeting in Manila on May 11, 2019 ahead of the mid-term elections on May 13. (Photo by Noel CELIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

Philippine bishops have declared they will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021 with or without the participation of President Rodrigo Duterte, who said he will not commemorate the “subjugation” of the country by Spanish colonizers.

“Why would I celebrate the arrival of the Spanish here? Why would I?” Duterte said in a speech on September 6. “They came to this country as imperialists. We were not Spanish and they subjugated us for 300 years. That’s painful for me.”

The president’s words provoked sharp responses from a number of the nation’s Catholic bishops, who said that Duterte was making a big mistake in not getting behind the landmark anniversary.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan said that in 2021 Filipinos will not be celebrating colonialism but “the Christian faith” that from the outset they “welcomed as a gift, albeit from people who were not necessarily motivated by the purest of motives.”

For his part, Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose said that Duterte would be missing an opportunity to unite the people whom he vowed to serve. The Church will move forward with its festivities while the president will only “deprive himself of the graces, which we will receive during the celebration,” Mallari said.

Yet another bishop, Ruperto Santos of Balanga, said that there was plenty to celebrate and thank God for after 500 years of evangelization in the country, which is overwhelmingly Catholic.

“One may or not celebrate or attend, yet we continue to be grateful to God for His 500 years of graces and guidance,” he said.

The celebration is a way “to remember and look back” to the presence of Christianity in Philippine history, which made the country a “new evangelizer of the Catholic faith to the whole world,” Bishop Santos said.

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon issued a more forceful rebuke of the president, saying his attitude reflected historical ignorance as well as disdain for Christianity.

By opting out of the celebrations, Duterte shows he is “ignorant of the significance” of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the history of the world. Magellan arrived in Cebu Island, Philippines, in March 1521, where he planted a cross.

The Southeast Asian archipelago, named for King Philip II of Spain, became a Spanish colony in 1565 and remained under Spanish rule until 1898.

“It is not only the coming of Christianity that we celebrate but the great significance of Magellan’s voyage that proves Galileo’s theory that the world is round,” Bishop Bastes said.

Bastes said that Duterte needed “a lecture on the history of the world and of our country.”

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