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Remember the Order of Kalantiaw?

After the conclusion of the impeachment trial of Renato Corona, I remembered the impressive state honor or decoration created by an executive order of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1971 known as the Order of Kalantiaw. Conferred on retiring Supreme Court justices and visiting international jurists, it consisted of a blue sash with a breast star in the shape of an eight-rayed sun, with many smaller rays in between. The star was fashioned in enamel and gold or gilt bronze, and its main design elements were a sword on which lay the balance of justice, as well as stone tablets with Roman numerals I to X that stood for the biblical Ten   Commandments.

For retiring justices, this was a memorable “pabaon” for years of dedicated service. The last recipient of the Order of Kalantiaw was Chief Justice Andres Narvasa because in 2003 the order was dropped from the rolls pursuant to Executive Order 236 issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003 “establishing the Honors Code of the Philippines, to create an order of precedence of honors conferred and for other purposes.”

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Now that the Order of Kalantiaw has been deleted from the Honors Code, what happens to the 206 individuals who were conferred the award earlier? Will they be given a replacement medal or citation or another award? Perhaps they can be given something else within the existing awards.

Kalantiaw has had a long life in our textbooks and we hope that the Code of Kalantiaw is not in the new K to 12 Makabayan learning materials. Before Kalantiaw was officially declared a hoax in 2004, there were other laws to contend with. On Jan. 24, 1973, four months after he declared martial law and began to rule by decree, Marcos issued Presidential Decree 105 declaring previously established national shrines as sacred or hallowed places and ensuring their protection, along with those that would be declared shrines in the future, from acts of desecration. Thus, it was forbidden to disturb the peace of these shrines through noise, excavation, or unbecoming acts (whatever that meant). Furthermore, Marcos defined fines and prison terms for those who would desecrate these shrines.

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At the time, specific mention was made of the following: “the birthplace of Dr. Jose Rizal in Calamba, Laguna; Talisay, Dapitan City, where the hero was exiled for four years; Fort Santiago, Manila, where he was imprisoned in 1896 prior to his execution; Talaga, Tanauan, Batangas, where Apolinario Mabini was born; Pandacan, Manila, where Mabini’s house, in which he died, is located; and Aguinaldo Mansion in Kawit, Cavite, where Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, first President of the Philippines, was born, and where Philippine independence was solemnly proclaimed on June 12, 1898; Batan, Aklan, where the ‘Code of Kalantiyaw’ was promulgated in   1433; etc.”

The last mentioned was a source of pride in 1956 when the Philippine Historical Committee, at the request of the Municipal Council of Batan, Aklan, installed a bronze marker in the area with text that read:

“CODE OF KALANTIAW. Datu Bendehara Kalantiaw, third Chief of Panay, born in Aklan, established his government in the peninsula of Batang, Aklan Sakup. Considered the First Filipino Lawgiver, he promulgated about 1433 a penal code now known as Code of Kalantiaw containing 18 articles. Don Marcelino Orilla of Zaragoza, Spain, obtained the original manuscript from an old chief of Panay which was later translated into Spanish by Rafael Murviedo Yzamaney.”

At the time, Kalantiaw was a source of national pride, and the Kalantiaw Shrine and Museum was established in Batan. Numerous streets were named after this legendary—or should we say mythical—figure; a segunda mano US destroyer was acquired by the Philippine Navy in 1967 and christened the RPS Datu Kalantiaw, but this ship was wrecked by a storm in 1981 and decommissioned.

Then, in a doctoral dissertation defended in 1968, William Henry Scott proved that the Code of Kalantiaw was a forgery made in the early 20th century by Jose E. Marco of Negros. As a historiographical issue it was solvable, but what complicated matters were people who could not let Kalantiaw go peacefully into the night. In the website of the Bengzon Law Office you will find a photo of a wood relief that adorns its headquarters, and which is described thus:

“The mural wood sculpture is the centerpiece of the inner sanctum of The Bengzon Law Firm. It depicts the proclamation of the Code of Kalantiaw, said to be the first codification of laws in the Philippines before the Hispanic era, and enacted by Datu Bendahara Kalantiaw in the year 1433 on the island of Panay. Discovered in a 2-volume work ‘Las Antiguas Legendas de las Islas de Negros’ by Fr. Jose Maria Pavon. Today the Order of Kalantiaw is the highest honor to be bestowed upon deserving judges or legal luminaries.”

There are many examples of “invented tradition,” or how myth and legend sometimes endure against historical truth. One of the memorable exchanges I had with my students was when a Chinoy remarked that “ka” isn’t a precolonial honorific because in Chinese it was a verb that meant “to bite/chew,” while “lantiaw” was the vulgar word for “testicles.” By creating Kalantiaw, Jose E. Marco had the last laugh at Philippine history’s expense.

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