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The challenge to remember

Launched last March 10, Karl Gaspar’s “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring” (Claretian Publications), presents us Filipinos with a gift in the form of a challenge — the challenge to remember.

With this year’s commemoration of the 500th year of Christianity in the Philippines, Gaspar’s book is both a warning and a call to restraint. He warns us against forgetfulness—in particular the forgetting of the stories of those whose voices have been silenced since the introduction of Christianity in the group of islands that now goes by the name “Philippines.”

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There are certainly many reasons (and truly reasonable, legitimate ones) to celebrate this milestone in the history of the country, but the Redemptorist Brother Gaspar bids us to temper our celebratory tendencies, which can easily degenerate into a form of triumphalism, and instead take the occasion as an opportunity to remember not just the origins of Christianity in the Philippines, but also the fates of those who were harmed, hurt, and/or silenced in the process of “conversion.”

“To trace how this colonization process began,” writes Gaspar, “we need to return to the historical narratives of how our ancestors were coerced into subservience to foreign powers five hundred years ago.”

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“All throughout this historical process, has a ‘chauvinist Christianity’ asserted itself to the point where it helped to destroy the fabric of a belief system that for centuries held the people’s lives in a symbolic manner that made possible living a most humane, just and compassionate way of life?”

In choosing “Handumanan” as the main title of his book, Gaspar challenges us to overcome our forgetfulness and, perhaps for the first time, care for those who had been harmed, silenced, and marginalized in the course of the Christianization of the Philippines. The Bisayan word handumanan (memorial, remembrance) and the Bikolano word giromdoman (to remember) could well be related to the Tagalog ramdam, damdam, damdamin (feeling, to feel). Pag-alala is at the same time the act of remembering and being concerned (alalahanin), of caring for someone or something.

The first gesture of the book is the very opposite of any sort of triumphalism — it is the gesture of humility. And that exercise of humility is most difficult when it calls for an admission of guilt and asks for forgiveness.

“… Most of us continue to patronize and discriminate against [indigenous people], to think of them as nakakaawa or makaluluoy (to be pitied), to downplay the importance of their indigenous knowledge and practices, and worst of all to either be directly or indirectly involved in the continuing tragedy of their displacement from their ancestral domain,” says Gaspar. “Many of us do not remember—or would rather forget—that merely half a millennia ago, our own ancestors were indigenous, with many similarities in terms of the Lumad way of life still existing today among those in the hinterlands.”

To heed Gaspar’s challenge, we must come to realize that what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget will show who we really are and what we care about. Heeding the call to handumanan, paggiromdom, pagdamdam begins with an act of humility, which in turn is first signified by the confession of guilt—individually, collectively, and institutionally.

If there is anything to celebrate with the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity and the Europeans in the Philippines it should be the triumph of remembering over forgetfulness. And if there is anything to be excited about, it should be the opportunity, after rectifying what needs to be rectified, to truly rediscover and acknowledge our sister and brother Filipinos who have long been silenced and set aside.

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Remmon E. Barbaza is associate professor at the Department of Philosophy, School of Humanities, Ateneo de Manila University.

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TAGS: Christianity in the Philippines, Commentary, Remmon E. Barbaza
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