Government-Church Sector Quincentennial Cooperation

Posted on 30 January 2021
By Rene R. Escalante, Ph.D.

The message of Dr. Rene R. Escalante, Chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and Executive Director of the National Quincentennial Committee in the Webinar “Bound By History: Magellan, Santo Niño And The Beginning Of The Augustinian Evangelization,” Organized by the Augustinian Provincial Committee on the 500th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Image of Santo Niño de Cebu, 30 January 2020.

Watch the proceedings here.

Greetings:

  1. Fr. Andres Rivera, Jr., OSA, Provincial Prior of the Augustinian Province of Santo Niño de Cebu
  2. Most Rev. Jose S. Palma, Archbishop of Cebu
  3. Aladdin Luzon, OSA, Chairman of Santo Niño at 500 Committee
  4. Danilo Gerona, Keynote Speaker

A pleasant afternoon to all!

On behalf of the National Quincentennial Committee or NQC, please accept my warm greetings.

On May 8, 2018, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte created the NQC by virtue of Executive Order No. 55. The committee is tasked to prepare the country in commemorating the events related to the 500th anniversary of the Philippine part in the first circumnavigation of the world. As of our latest count, there are thirty-four major quincentennial events, beginning at Guiuan, Eastern Samar on March 16, 2021, and ending at Sarangani Island, Davao Occidental on October 28, 2021, respectively. In between are the events that transpired in Cebu. First is the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines or otherwise known as the 500 Years of Christianity to the church sector and whose reckoning date is the 500th anniversary of the baptism at Cebu on April 14, 2021. The second will be the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan on April 27, 2021. These events, although quite anti-climactic to see, are seen by the NQC as worthy of remembrance.

The NQC admits that a lot of people confuse the 500 Years of Christianity as the main event of the committee. A major factor to this is the fact that the majority of the Filipino population is Roman Catholic. This is a clear manifestation of how well-entrenched the Christian faith in the consciousness of our countrymen, especially the Filipino Catholic faithful. Nevertheless, the NQC supports the academic, cultural, and historical aspects of the 500 Years of Christianity as an integral part of the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines, which is our branding for all the quincentennials happening this 2021 in the Visayas, Palawan, and Mindanao.

But let us not forget: this year, we are also marking the 500th anniversary of the presentation of the image of the Santo Niño to our ancestors. Unfortunately, primary sources are silent when did Ferdinand Magellan present the image to the hara or queen of Cebu, baptized as Juana. But one thing is for sure: Magellan presented this, days after the baptism happened on April 14, 1521. It all began when Juana was magnetized by the charm of the “el Bambino” atop the altar table during the baptism. Magellan learned this, and in one of the masses held days after, surprised Juana with the “el Bambino” as a sign of Christ’s presence in this part of the world. Forty-four years later, in 1565, in a supposed balay or house of a chief, owing to its built per record, the same “el Bambino” was discovered by one of the men of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. That discovery elevated the image of the child Jesus as an important relic of Christ’s presence and the Christianization that began in 1565. We don’t know what happened to the “el Bambino” between the exit of the Magellan-Elcano expedition from Cebu on May 1, 1521, and the day Legazpi discovered it on April 28, 1565. But one thing is for sure: the “el Bambino” was well taken care of as a sacred image, and the arbitrariness of its purpose to Christianity was recovered and appreciated by our ancestors when the Christian mission formally began in 1565.

We will capture the story of the Santo Niño in the two projects of the NQC scheduled to be launched in time for the 500 Years of Christianity this April. First is an exhibition emphasizing the role of the Santo Niño in Philippine history and culture. I am grateful to the Augustinian Province of Santo Niño de Cebu for allowing the exhibit to be mounted for two months in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu. The NQC and the Province agreed to open it on April 14 or the D-Day of the 500 Years of Christianity. Hopefully, our second project associated with the 500 Years of Christianity which is a documentary on the Santo Niño be shown to the public on the same day.

If I may also add, the National Museum of the Philippines is scheduled to declare on April 14 the Basilica and the image of the Santo Niño as National Cultural Treasures. This stature is the highest recognition the State can give to such historically and culturally-significant heritage of the Filipino people. Last January 16, the NQC and the Augustinian Province had an alignment meeting and agreed to collaborate on various academic, historical, and cultural endeavors—among which is this three-part webinar sponsored by the Santo Niño at 500 Years Committee.

There will be two quincentennial activities related to the 500 Years of Christianity in Portugal. This is under the auspices of the Philippine Embassy in Portugal with our Ambassador, Celia Anna Feria, herself the one on top of the preparations. An ecclesiastical museum in Lisbon will replicate our exhibit in the Portuguese capital. The Province committed to send the 1965 coronation regalia of the Santo Niño to that exhibit, along with a replica of the image. The second Philippine-Portugal project will be the presentation of the Santo Niño in the birthplace of Magellan in Sabrosa; but this time, it is us, Filipinos who will be the ones gifting the image. This image is courtesy of the Augustinian Province, too.

The values embodied in the theme Victory and Humanity of the government-led 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines are aligned with the 500 Years of Christianity’s theme Gifted to Give. The NQC appreciates the emphasis of 500 Years of Christianity in celebrating the journey of Christian Filipinos in the last 500 years, which is Filipino-centric in point of view. I wish the success of the 500 Years of Christianity and the Santo Niño at 500 Years.

Rene R. Escalante, Ph.D. is the Chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the concurrent Vice-Chairperson and Executive Director of the National Quincentennial Committee.

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