At a time when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte himself contrasted his style of government with the dangerous “colonial mentality”, it is all the more important for The Philippines to embrace and cherish both recent and historic anti-colonial figures. Lapu-Lapu is recognised as the 16th century hero who was the first leader throughout The Philippines to stand up to and ultimately defeat Spanish imperialists on the field of battle.
Lapu-Lapu was the ruler of Mactan when Spanish Conquistador Ferdinand Magellan’s forces attempted to subdue Mactan as part of the initial wave of Spanish colonisation of The Philippines. On the 27th of April 1521, Lapu-Lapu led his forces against the invaders and crushed the Spanish, killing the infamous Magellan in the process.
President Duterte has now declared that in Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu province, the 27th of April will now officially be a non-working holiday so that locals can pay tribute to their forebearer who rejected the submissive colonial mentality and fought for the sovereignty of his people.
If anything, Lapu-Lapu day should be expanded throughout the country because even though Lapu-Lapu led the people of Mactan rather than a united country, it is important for all modern Filipinos to recognise the contribution of their brothers and sisters throughout the islands in the anti-colonial cause.
It is no secret that the Roman Catholic Church’s continued presence in The Philippines is a direct product of Spanish colonisation. While in the 15th and 16th centuries Spain conquered much of the western hemisphere motivated by economic greed while hypocritically carrying the Cross, the same was true for Spain’s major Asian possession – The Philippines. In the modern world, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights aims to protect every man and woman’s right to worship whatever they choose, in the manner of their choosing while also guaranteeing one’s right not to have a faith. But these fundamental issues of conscience are deeply removed from opposing institutionalised religion when it becomes a meddlesome political force as President Duterte has done – thus elevating his position on par with many personally religious anti-imperialists throughout the world.
But even closer to home, retired diplomat and political analyst Rigoberto D. Tiglao compared Duterte’s critics who seem to have wilfully misunderstood his recent comments on religion to the Catholic institutionalists who stood up to condemn Jose Rizal, one of the forefathers of modern anti-imperial Philippine nationalism.
“Rizal and now Duterte are the only Filipinos of national stature who did not mince words in attacking the Catholic Church, with our national hero in fact making a name for himself through his compelling and vivid novels against it, which inspired the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Duterte’s critics wouldn’t want that, would they?
‘I have left my country on account of my book. The Filipino public welcomed Noli Me Tangere very heartily; the edition is entirely exhausted. The Governor General summoned me and asked me for a copy of it. The friars were most excited. They wanted to persecute me, but they did not know how to get me. The Archbishop threatened to excommunicate me’.
Indeed, why wouldn’t the Catholic Church in the Philippines at the height of its power during the Spanish colonial period not want — as it succeeded in doing — Rizal not just to be excommunicated, but executed for writing two best-selling novels that not just exposed the abuses of its friars but also questioned Catholic dogma? After all, the Spanish Church had a tradition of executing thousands of “heretics,” by burning them at the stake after torture, condemned by its infamous Grand Inquisition organized by the Dominican Tomás de Torquemada”.
Thus, one sees an unbroken chain of Filipino heroes who resisted the colonial mentality, colonial oppression and colonial (including neo-colonial) institutions in all their forms. Lapu-Lapu and Rizal stand as unique signposts of a proud past tradition of independence of mind and body that prioritised sacrifices for freedom above concessions to those who did and would enslave.
As the democratically elected President of a sovereign nation, Rodrigo Duterte is keeping the tradition of anti-colonial resistance alive and in so doing, he has exposed himself to the most vicious kinds of attacks imaginable. But as Duterte said,
“I don’t care if I burn in hell, for as long as the people I serve live in paradise”.
When the historical annals of the 21st century are written in future generations, Duterte will indeed be remembered as the most contemporary figure in a line of succession of Filipinos ancient and modern who stood against all those who would physically, economically, mentally and spiritually seek to enslave a free nation of free people.
In this sense, honouring heroes like Lapu-Lapu is not only a sign of respect for the past but a reflection of one’s present values which will help shape a freer, more prosperous and more harmonious future.