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Living under the bell

A. Paulita Roa .

WE were often told in our history class that the Philippines was colonized by Spain through the sword and the cross. True. It was all for God, gold and glory but not necessarily in that order. After Ferdinand Magellan came and introduced Christianity here, it was only 44 years later that the establishment of Catholicism in the archipelago was realized when the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and his fleet arrived in our shores in 1565. Among those who came with him were five Agustinian friars who started evangelizing and winning many converts. Their zeal and tireless efforts in winning the native rulers and their subjects to the faith was a big plus in hastening the colonization of the islands.

Since Legaspi did not have with him a large number of Spanish troops, it was difficult and would have taken a long time for him to conquer the whole archipelago especially because the terrain and other geographical features of our land are entirely different from that of their native Spain. Then there is the tropical climate to consider and of the fact that at that time (the 16th century), the Spanish soldier’s uniform was heavy and cumbersome — think metal body armor and heavy iron helmets worn here when the heat can be unbearable at times. I am sure many of them had a hard time adjusting to our kind of weather and several may have died of a heat stroke. Although the Spaniards took over the old lowland communities and coastal villages either by force or through conversion, there was still a big percentage that had yet to be pacified and colonized.

So, the next best thing the conquistadores did was to send in the priests with the cross to the interior and unexplored areas. When a big number of “Indios” (the term they used to describe the local inhabitants) were converted, the sword followed later. After the large conversion which usually started with the local ruler, then his subjects, the usual standard operating procedure of the priests was to relocate their converts to a new place that was far away from their ancestral ground. This is one of the reasons why we have many areas in Luzon that are known as Lumang Bayan (old town) and the same goes with the areas of the Bisayans where it is called the Daang or Karaang Lungsod.

The new settlement was called “reduccion” (Spanish for reduction) though many termed it as “under the bell.” They are usually located along the coast or besides a navigable river. The reason for this is so that it will be easy for the Spaniards to come and exercise control over the newly Christianized Indios. There is a copy of an 1879 annual report of the Order of the Agustinian Recollects that worked in Northern Mindanao. I read that they founded all the coastal towns in this region. Here in Misamis Oriental for example, you do not wonder anymore why the towns from Lugait to Magsaysay are along the coast and Cagayan de Oro, though it is a little farther from Macajalar Bay, is besides the navigable portion of the Cagayan River.

However, there were many who steadfastly refused to be converted and be brought to live in a reduccion. Aside from the Muslims, there were upland people groups like the Igorots of the Mountain Province, the Mangyans in Mindoro and the Manuvu or Manobo in Central Mindanao, who  fiercely resisted what was then the new western influences. This made them retreat deeper in to the forests and big mountains that made it very difficult for the Spaniards to penetrate. This kind of isolation helped in preserving the indigenous way of life and traditions of our Lumads and Muslims.

“Under the bell” means that in the reduccion, the highest structure one can find is the church that has a cross on its roof top and a bell tower. There was a convent besides the church where the parish priest lived. The bell summoned the people to worship, for a community assembly and whatever purpose it may served the priest.

Inside the church, was the crucifix and “santoses” or icons that were Spanish looking like San Nicolas and San Guillermo who were garbed in their priestly habits. This helped greatly in making the people subservient to the priests and created the colonial mentality in us, Filipinos, that persisted even to this day — where we think that all the good, beautiful and heavenly came from the West and in that period, it came from Spain.

Then there was the Leyes de los Indies, the  basic town plan of Spanish colonized countries that was introduced here. It consisted of  three basic features, the church, the plaza and the colonial administrative building. Here in our city, we can still find these in Barangay 1 — the St. Agustine Cathedral, the old plaza that now is divided and consists of the Gaston Park and the City Tennis Courts and the Casa Real which was the office and residence of the Spanish military governors. It was located is on the present site where the City Executive House and the quadrangle in front of the annex building of the City Hall now stand.

Through the convent window, the priest observed the comings and goings of the Spanish colonial officials at Casa Real or had access to the daily lives of the Indios that can be gleaned in the confessional box or their conduct at the plaza. This was the time when there was no separation of the church and the state and the priest had a say to almost anything to everything because all were living under the bell.

I wonder if the  bishops and priests still think that their Filipino faithful still live “under the bell.” Or have their influence waned even with all their loud anti government stand that were usually delivered in their pulpits. However, recent elections proved that there is no such thing as a Catholic vote and now, most Filipinos are way too far to hear that particular sound of the bell.

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mindanao goldstar daily
TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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