How’s this for a throwback? The site of the first Easter Sunday mass in the Philippines in March 31, 1521 is Limasawa, a municipality in what is now Southern Leyte. This is according to an official position by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines dated July 15, 2020, but only released yesterday.
The statement seeks to sustain a government ruling on the matter, and resolve a standing controversy about the significant Catholic event’s actual location. About a decade ago, media and communications practitioner Vicente Calibo Jesus posted on Facebook a lengthy explanation of how calling Limasawa as the site of the mass is a hoax. He says that it is actually Mazaua in Butuan, Agusan del Norte.
“[National Historical Institute] refuses to apologize for its falsification of history, it pretends it has not done anything wrong, it assumes no new ground has been gained that removed the issue away from local, parochial, insular historiography and into global archaeology, nuclear science, geomorphology, and other allied physical sciences,” Jesus wrote in his strongly-worded, timelined rebuke in 2010.
“It still operates under the delusion, as stated by former NHI Chair Samuel K. Tan and reaffirmed by its current Chair Ambeth Ocampo, that only NHI can proclaim ‘the ultimate truth’ of any historical issue. No civilized group of historians has had to work under the weight of such self-delusion. And it forgets for over half a century it has been proclaiming out of incompetence and lack of true scholarship the ultimate untruth, that Limasawa is Mazaua.”
Two years ago, NHCP created a panel headed by historian and national artist Resil Mojares to give the issue a definitive closure. This was the fourth panel put together to verify and authenticate this historical fact, after similar efforts in 1980, 1995, and 2008. As with this recent decision, the previous three panels ruled in favor of Southern Leyte as the site although Mazaua proponents argued they were not given enough time to present their position.
According to NHCP’s statement yesterday, this new panel was convened as a response to the requests from various institutions, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), “even as the anticipation of the Filipino Catholic faithful had just begun for the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines.”
Such rulings have weight, and carries significant repercussions even from government’s point-of-view. For example, almost exactly a year ago, President Duterte declared March 31 as a special non-working holiday in Southern Leyte because of Limasawa’s connection to the mass. And we could just imagine how much this recognition means to the roughly 6,000 inhabitants of the island located at the tip of the Visayan province.
Apart from this, the NHCP also pursued this in line with Republic Act No. 10086 or the “Strengthening People’s Nationalism Act of 2009,” which mandates the commission to “actively engage in the settlement or resolution of controversies or issues relative to historical personages, places, dates and events.”