Violation of safe spaces | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Violation of safe spaces

/ 04:05 AM January 27, 2021

To understand the 1989 University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense agreement on campus access by state forces, we have to remember the dark days of martial law, when intelligence operatives monitored the university down to classroom lectures by targeted faculty.

Ferdinand Marcos is long dead and martial law a nightmare most of us have woken up from, except for some in the military and police who mistake valid criticism of the President or the government as subversion. From the chorus of voices that have come out in support of academic freedom in UP, Sen. Bato de la Rosa was out of tune, asking: “What is so special about UP?”


Taking that revealing comment at face value, shouldn’t we demand academic freedom not only for UP, but for all other institutes of higher education in the country?

The idea of sanctuary or, to use modern language, a “safe space” for education, research, and critical thinking is rooted in a practice that goes way back to Spanish Philippines, when fugitives from the law, military, or police could invoke sanctuary in a church. One of the famous cases of violation of church sanctuary occurred in 17th-century Intramuros, ending in a dramatic showdown between governor general Hurtado de Corcuera and Archbishop of Manila fray Hernando Guerrero.


Many years ago, while walking around San Agustin Church with a copy of the text that I will share below, one of the Spanish Augustinians greeted me with a warm hug and teased me with: “¿Qué mentiras escribirás ahora?” (What lies will you write now?). He found me reading names and dates off the ancient tombstones that littered the floor and walls near the main door. I had just read Gaspar de San Agustin’s “Conquistas de las islas Filipinas” (Madrid, 1698), and one incident related there was memorable because it began with love and sex, was complicated by murder, and ended in tragedy.

“There was an artilleryman in Manila named Francisco de Nava who had a female slave with whom he had an illicit communication, as came to the ears of the archbishop [Don Fray Hernando Guerrero]. The archbishop ordered him to remove from himself this occasion [for sin] by selling the slave girl to another person; and had the latter placed, for that purpose, in the house of a lady who was related to Doña Maria de Francia, who became fond of her and arranged to buy her from the artilleryman. The latter was so beside himself over the loss of the said slave girl that he refused to sell her at any price, saying that he wished, on the contrary, to marry her. But Doña Maria de Francia so arranged matters that the slave was sold and came into her possession with very slight effort. The artilleryman, grieved and regretful for what had happened, almost became mad, and, it having been given out that he was mad, certain violence was shown him; and on one occasion he had received a sound beating at the house of Doña Maria de Francia, because he had gone there to request that they should give him the slave, as he had resolved to make her his wife.

“Aggrieved and rendered desperate in this way, he saw the girl pass one day in a carriage with Doña Maria de Francia. Going to her, he asked her whether she knew him, who was her master. The slave answered him with some independence, whereupon he, blind with anger, drew his dagger in the middle of the street and killed her by stabbing her, before anyone could prevent it. All the people, both those in the carriage and those in the street, ran tumultuously [after him]; but the artilleryman escaped them all, and took refuge in the church of our convent in Manila.” (Translated from the original Spanish in “The Philippine Islands” Vol.25, compiled by E.H. Blair and J.A. Robertson)

To cut a long story short, the artilleryman was eventually taken from the church and swiftly condemned to death. Officials from the arzobispado demanded that the artilleryman be returned to the church, whose sanctuary was violated. In response, the governor ordered makeshift gallows erected in front of San Agustin Church, probably the parking lot today, and, to spite the archbishop and the church, ordered the artilleryman executed then and there. A chain of events led to the end of both governor and bishop in one of the celebrated cases of church-state conflict in 17th-century Philippines.

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TAGS: a Spanish artilleryman, safe spaces, San Agustin Church, slave girl
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