Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Blood Compact of Bohol, Legazpi & Sikatuna

Before going to Bohol I was only dimly aware of the 1565 blood compact, or Sandugo in Filipino, between the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna, a chieftain of Bohol. Historically this blood compact is one of the most noteworthy events of Bohol. Naturally, being a lover of things historical, I had to investigate and seek understanding.

We acquired the services of a driver and guide from the Vest Pension House and our first stop of the day was at the traditional site of the Blood Compact. I’m sure no one is exactly sure after 442 years where the specific place is that Legazpi and Sikatuna drank together from a goblet filled with a mixture of their own blood and wine, but the general area is certainly correct. At the small town of Baclayon we pulled off the road and spent several minutes at a larger than life diorama depicting Sikatuna and Legazpi seemingly having a toast. The site is high on a bluff and affords a beautiful view of the Bohol Sea. As I inspected each statue and read the plaques I tried to understand the significance of this pact.

Truthfully, at the time I didn’t get it, and even now I struggle with it. I thought to myself, ‘Why all the fuss over something so tragic?’ I can understand simply marking it as an event from the past to be acknowledged and studied, but people from Bohol actually have a party every year called the Sandugo Festival to mark what can only be considered a start date to 333 years of abject Spanish oppression. For me it brings to mind how the French similarly celebrate their Revolution, one of the most violent and deplorable events in European history.

I asked the guide how she felt about the way the Spanish treated the indigenous peoples here, but as usual I got not much more than a verbal shrug. The Japanese paid some pretty hefty reparations to the Philippines after WWII, but when one looks honestly at the three centuries of Spanish abuse heaped on this place Spain surely owes this country more money than there is in the entire world.

Like other things here there is a dichotomy in how Filipinos look at the subject of Spanish colonization. They desperately want to be proud of their past dealings with Spain, but the only way to do so is to ignore the extremely horrendous way they were treated by them. I see this dichotomy big time in the way Sikatuna and Lapu-Lapu are BOTH celebrated, each for doing the exact opposite thing. In 1521, Lapu-Lapu and his people refused to accept outside dominion and his forces ended up hacking Magellan to death on the beach at Mactan Island, which is just across the Cebu Straits from Bohol. Just 44 years later and Sikatuna accepts Legazpi’s overtures of “friendship” and the rest is history. Of course no one can blame Sikatuna; after all, Legazpi was going to do what he wanted in the name of the king of Spain regardless of what one Rajah from Bohol did.

Interestingly, I found the following excerpt in Wikpedia on the 2006 Sandugo Festival of Bohol.

Sandugo Oracles

1. One of the major highlights of the 2006 Sandugo celebration was the "Sandugo Oracles," an hour-long reenactment directed by Lutgardo Labad, which recounted the historic meeting between East and West through interpretive dance, pantomime, song and a narrative soundtrack in Bohol’s native Visayan. The oracles sought to “clarify” the Sandugo legend by going beyond typical reenactments, which only depict Legazpi and Sikatuna meeting, drinking goblets filled with each other’s blood and little else. “The performance highlights the impact on the native population and makes people think anew of their own realities,” Laba said.

2. The oracles presented Boholano priestess Karyapa tugging on Rajah Sikatuna's arm and imploring to ignore Legazpi's arrival in the Philippines. Karyapa's prohecy foretold the destruction of local civilization. The oracles also showed the role of a lesser-known datu Sigala who convinced Sikatuna to accept Legazpi's offer, and the influence of an earlier raid on Bohol by Portuguese slavers.

Obviously, here we have thoughtful and concerned people, like Mr. Labad, trying to figure out how to come to terms with the “dichotomy” I spoke of above. First, he speaks of using this newly concocted “Sandugo Oracles” to “clarify” events by going “beyond” the traditional reenactments to make us “think anew.” I suppose attempting to do that is okay, but what really bothers me is the addition of the “new history,” where supposedly a priestess tried to no avail to dissuade Sikatuna, while this Sigala fellow reminds not only Sikatuna, but all the play-goers, of what awaited the people of Bohol if he didn’t kiss Legazpi’s ass. Rewriting history can be a dangerous thing. So what’s next? Do they slowly wean the celebration away from the Sikatuna’s Blood Pact until eventually it becomes a commemoration of the ignored priestess, Karyapa? If so, I have the perfect name for this future celebration: The "Hindsight is 20-20 Festival!”

President Clinton and his notorious “definition of what is is” comment comes to mind when I think about what history is. To me, history IS a sacred thing; it should be about cold hard truth. My point is that history just “IS,” and just because it doesn’t conform to a modern vision of what it “should be” doesn’t mean it should be rewritten. Of course the festival should continue—it sounds like a grand time—but stay away from “correcting” the events of the past to make them more palatable to those of us in the present. It’s just not right.

My next Bohol entry will have not a single complaint or a bit of negativity in it—I promise! (Famous last words?)


Nick Ballesteros said...

Phil! Welcome back! Good to know your travelling again. Great stories you narrate in your blog.

Our Spanish heritage is deeply rooted in Philippine history. It's not as grand as we want it to be, and indeed the occupation was more oppressive and authoritarian than friendly, but we've had a couple more foreign occupations after that and it's something that set the course of our history. Love it, hate it, it's our past, and we celebrate it because good or bad, these landmarks in history are part of our culture and legacy.

Kevin said...

See, I think this is what makes history interesting. In order to understand fully the story being told, one must first understand the storyteller. When I was in Germany, I took a trip to what was then Communist-held (read Soviet) East Berlin. We took a tour of a museum dedicated to what the Soviets termed "The Battle for Berlin". You know the US was really just a minor player in WWII. Oh, we helped, some, but it was the motherland that really took care of the fascists. It was quite an eye-opening tour!

Who was it? Winston Churchill, I think. "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it".

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hello Wat, Hi Kev...

Wat, I'm an impassioned type of fellow, I've been told to my detriment, and nothing fires me up more than what the Spanish did here and didn't do here during the 333 years they mismanaged this place. The Americans were here for less than 50 and as soon as we got here we began to prepare the people for our departure. Hell, the Spanish didn't even allow the population to learn Spanish or any single "national language" as part of a successful scheme to prevent the people from identifying with each other. Spaniards were never here in very great numbers and yet they managed to keep this place completely cowed by setting one tribe against another. The Japanese, although more cruel, were in charge for barely 3 years, so they hardly count. No, the true historical villains are the Spanish. Almost all institutionalized problems here, from corruption to cronyimsm to nepotism, bureaucratic laziness, you name it, it all stems from the Spaniards. Present company excluded, you wouldn't know it from talking to most locals. In fact, having "Spanish Blood" is a universal bragging right. When someone tells me that i always answer tongue-in-cheek, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that..."

Kev, history is being rewritten in Japan as well. Textbooks exist hinting that Japan went to war because it had no choice. In effect, we "made them do it." Hey! They can't rewrite history. They lost that one, didn't they?

Thanks for the welcome back Wat. I got a new psych who's been helping me "deal." We'll see if it works out.

Girlie said...

Aha! I wondered where your link went. I had to comb my old entries to find it.

So, you're in Aunt owns a beach resort/diving at Cabilao. Her place is called La Estrella. If you're planning to dive, let me know, I'll call my Aunt for some discount. She has a wonderful place. I am not sure she's there now, but it's nice out there.

My father was born in Bohol. I have relatives all over Onion, Ubay and places near there. I did not see this site where you took this picture.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hey Shoshana,no,I'm not in Bohol, I just visited it. But, like most every other foreigner who visits there since visiting it I've been thinking about going back or even moving there. Its easy to become a Bohol fan.

Amadeo said...


Also visited that part of Bohol and had pics taken with the blood compact statues.

Stayed in one of the Panglao Island resorts and our overall assessment was that Bohol is still very much old country, unaffected and unspoiled unlike many urbanized areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.

We actually witnessed jeepney drivers pulling over completely to the side when loading and unloading passengers. Traffic and road courtesy still very commendable.

Girlie said...

I enjoyed Panglao very much when I went there...but it's gotten so much more commercial since I visited it last ages ago. Diving is definitely fun there.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I was in (on?) Bohol on business and only took one day to sightsee... By "commercial" you probably mean more expensive. That's what happens when a "good thing" gets out. How would you prefer it to be?

American atrocities said...

PhilippinesPhil said...
that the Spanish did here and didn't do here during the 333 years they mismanaged this place. The Americans were here for less than 50

Well PhilippinesPhil, I have news for you.
Philippines during the Spanish times was one of the richest places in Asia, the Pearl of the Orient was called. Look at it now, after the American invasion.

Also, during those 50 years the Americans took over, they killed 10 times more Filipinos than the Spaniards ever did.
That makes them at least 60 times worse, right?

Just Google: "Kill everyone over ten"
Click here to see to debunk PhilippinesPhil's lies

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yup, this country has had the pontential to be THE richest in all of Southeast Asia. The Spanish living here all those centuries got rich from "indio" slave labor while the indiginous folks stayed poor. I tell no lies. The war of insurrection fought here by the Americans was bloody. Thousands of locals died, especially on Samar. It would have been better if we had never chosen to stay after kicking out the Spanish. If we'd simply left, the Dutch, Brits, Japanese, Germans, a whole host of countries in fact were lined up and ready to pull the archipelago apart. In retrospect we should have allowed that to happen; perhaps this disparate clump of tribes and clans would have done better in their smaller components. Oh, and aside from the insurrection which lasted til about '02 we continued to kill Moros by the hundreds down in the south for another 20 or so years; lets not forget that. Its easy to continue to hate the United States for its sins because we continue to be a world power, at least until Obama finishes dismantling us; while the Spanish have been pathetic toast since we handed them their ass in 1898. Hard to hate a nation that allowed itself to fall into such complete ruin. But as they say, thats ancient history; the problems this nation faces now has nothing to do with the Spanish, the Americans or the Japanese; nope, all the things wrong with this place now are all home grown.