Filipino hospitality over 5 centuries | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Filipino hospitality over 5 centuries

/ 05:09 AM November 15, 2017

Filipino hospitality went on overdrive the other night at the Asean Summit gala dinner and surely impressed the visiting heads of state who spent most of their time indoors, shielded from the traffic, noise and humidity that Filipinos endure daily. Justin Trudeau stole the show simply by being easy on the eyes in contrast to Donald Trump struggling to maintain a smile on a disagreeable face, if only to distract Pinoys from noticing his ill-fitting barong Tagalog with sleeves a tad too long. If we are to gloss over Lapu-Lapu killing our first tourist, and Humabon slaughtering the remainder of the stragglers from Mactan during a postbattle dinner, we can begin a brief history of Filipino hospitality from 1521 to Asean 2017.

Pompas, solemnidades, exposiciones, ferias, festejos, festividades and celebraciones are but some of the keywords that indicate the content of bundles in the National Archives of the Philippines that a historian should mine to recreate the various feasts that make for Filipino hospitality in the Spanish colonial period. The document bundles I have gone through cover the 19th century, mostly requests for religious fiestas and some on private parties, as well as information on appropriate music for funerals! Permits provided local government with fiesta revenue and relieved paranoid officials that a large group of people gathering was not a rebellion.


Documentation on three royal visits to Manila are available, namely: the Duque de Hedimburgo in 1869, and the Duque de Genova and the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia in the 1880s. Manila played host to only one king, Norodom I of Cambodia, who visited in 1872, months after the execution of the priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora. Archival material is so detailed with individual receipts for all the expenses for the visit: materials for triumphal arches, cloth for festoons and banderitas, food and drink, so a good time could be had by all. Norodom was so impressed with Filipino hospitality he ordered one of his ministers to ask the Spanish governor general for a complete list of everyone who had contributed to the success of the visit. Norodom later rained on all these individuals various medals and ribbons of the kingdom’s state decorations.

Spanish kings and queens in Madrid were so remote to their subjects half a world away. Laws and proclamations were made in their name, their birthdays celebrated and funerals mourned with appropriate pomp in Spanish Manila but they were all but imaginary because no Spanish king had set foot in the colony from 1565, when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi took possession of the islands, until Intramuros was surrendered to the Americans in August 1898. In the library of the Royal Palace in Madrid is a document that narrates one of the strangest events in our shared history.


Textbook history records that our founding fathers established the First Republic in Malolos, the first in Southeast Asia, but glosses over the fact that we were practically the last of the Spanish colonies to declare independence unlike those in Latin America that freed themselves by 1825. Ferdinand VII wanted to reward the Philippines for its loyalty to the crown, after all, Philip II on June 21, 1574, conferred on Manila the title “Insigne y siempre leal” marking it as an “illustrious and ever-loyal” city. Since Ferdinand VII could not thank his loyal subjects in person, he commissioned a full-length portrait from the court painter Vicente Lopez and sent it to Manila. The royal portrait arrived in October 1825, in a box draped with heavy black cloth together with the effects of Mariano Ricafort, newly minted governor general. In December, Ricafort arranged for the king’s portrait that had been installed in the salon of the Administracion de la Rentas del Vino in Binondo to be transferred and solemnly installed at the Ayuntamiento.

Ferdinand VII was not in Manila in person, but his portrait was the next best thing, greeted along the way by a cheering crowd estimated in the thousands. Ricafort declared a general amnesty first to military and later to civil prisoners declogging prisons and putting them in the king’s debt. This document in Madrid, complete with watercolors of the various floats and decorations, saw the hospitality unfurled not for a real person but a picture.

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TAGS: 31st Asean Summit, Amberth R. Ocampo, Asean, asean 2017, Filipino hospitality, Looking Back
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