MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday rebuked the need to celebrate the 500th year since the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the Philippines, saying the foreign landing in Cebu heralded centuries of abuse against Filipinos.
Duterte gave the statement in Cebu where Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who went on a voyage to circumnavigate the world for Spain, landed in 1521 and began propagating Christianity.
"Bakit magbibigay ako ng selebrasyon sa pagdating ng mga banyaga na Espanyol dito? " Duterte said in a speech during a housing-related event in Cebu.
(Why would I throw a celebration for the arrival of Spaniards here?)
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has been preparing to mark 500 years since the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines on 2021, not the start of Spain's quest to colonize the country.
But the arrival of Magellan did not only bring Christianity, it also marked the start of Filipino slavery, Duterte said.
"You know they came to our country as imperialist. Hindi man tayo Español (we are not Spaniards) and they subjugated us for 300 years," he said.
"Sabihin natin na natuwa tayo dahil dumating sila dito, pero sila rin ang pumatay sa ating mga Pilipino na may prinsipyo, [like] Rizal, Bonifacio," he said, referring to revolutionary heroes Dr. Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.
(Let's say that we are happy that they came here, but they were also the ones who killed principled Filipinos like Rizal and Bonifacio.)
Duterte said he was not trying to pick a fight with priests, but admitted that he was "angry" over what happened centuries ago.
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David rebuffed the President's statements, saying Filipinos at that time were "intelligent enough" to distinguish Christianity from colonialism.
"The mere fact that we eventually repudiated colonial rule but continued to embrace the Christian faith even after we won the revolution could only mean that the natives did not equate the Christianity with Colonialism," David said in a statement.
"Let us therefore make it clear: what we will celebrate in 2021 is not colonialism but the Christian faith that the natives of these islands welcomed as a gift, albeit from people who were not necessarily motivated by the purest of motives," he said.
David admitted that the arrival of Spaniards in the Philippines sowed division among Filipinos, but said that "division is not always a negative thing."
"People forget that unity can sometimes be negative too—when it is about uniting around an ungodly purpose," he said.