Bohol and the blood compact
Tuesdays and Thursdays are toxic for me because these are the days I teach courses on the Philippines in Sophia University, Tokyo. To complicate matters, these are the days I beat the deadline for my Inquirer columns. Last Tuesday after Philippine history class, a Japanese student came up and asked if I had heard about the earthquake in Bohol. I replied that I would check in the afternoon, and the images I saw online were very depressing indeed.
Aside from many human casualties, there were cultural losses as well—some of the finest and best-loved Spanish colonial churches crumbled to dust when nature decided to renew the face of the earth. Those of a more religious persuasion saw the finger of God redrawing the landscape, and much has been commented online about two religious images that remained standing and unscratched in the midst of the ruins. Was this a miracle or a happy coincidence?
We only pay attention to heritage when it is gone, so instead of rebuilding what is already lost perhaps we should focus our attention, our efforts, and our funding on preserving heritage at risk. I understand the loss, but should we even try to rebuild or replicate a 17th-century church, or should Bohol build new churches that reflect our time—the 21st century? This is one time where we look at history and ask ourselves if we want to remain in the past, or move on. The people of
Bohol built those churches centuries ago without modern equipment; surely today’s people of
Bohol can rebuild from the ruins, and we should let them decide what they want to do after their physical and emotional losses are healed.
When I went through the online images of the once-great churches of Loay, Dauis, Loboc, and
Baclayon, all reduced to ruins now, I wondered what had happened to the blood-compact memorials there. There are two that I remember visiting. The most famous one is on the road from Tagbilaran to Baclayon, with a bronze tableau by National Artist Napoleon V. Abueva (who incidentally is from
Bohol). Then there is another memorial near a spring or well in Loay that has since been declared the actual site where Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi conducted the “sandugo” or blood compact, which is the subject of Juan Luna’s iconic painting “El Pacto de Sangre” that has adorned the entrance to Malacañang’s formal rooms for a long time.
In 1885, a year after “Spoliarium” was awarded a gold medal in the Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, Luna embarked on another historical canvas, the subject being the blood compact forged between Sikatuna and Legazpi in 1565. Luna was required to do the painting for the city government of Manila in return for a scholarship that covered his studies and expenses in Madrid and Rome. “El Pacto de Sangre” was exhibited in Barcelona and the Universal Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 before it was enshrined permanently in Malacañang.
The “sandugo” on March 16, 1565, was a treaty of peace between Sikatuna and the Spaniards who were not allowed to land on Bohol. Apart from the bad memories of Magellan’s death in Mactan in 1521, the people of Cebu and Bohol had been victims of Portuguese pirates. Thus, when the Spaniards arrived they were mistaken for Portuguese.
The blood compact is a testament to Legazpi’s tact and diplomacy as well as Sikatuna’s trusting nature. Contrary to popular belief, blood was drawn from the chest, with a small incision slightly below the breast of each participant. Blood was not drawn from the arm, as is done when donating blood to the Red Cross today. A few drops of blood were gathered in a cup from each participant, then water or wine was mixed in to bind everything together. The mixture was divided equally in two cups and was drunk bottoms-up.
In the Abueva sculpture in Tagbilaran, as well as in a painting by National Artist Carlos V. Francisco, we see Legazpi and Sikatuna raising their vessels in a toast before drinking the mixture that would make them, literally, blood brothers.
Luna’s representation is dark and quite stiff, like the photographs of those times, but tension is created by the uneven distribution of the figures. There is only one Filipino in the painting, Sikatuna, and his back is turned, while the faces of all the Spaniards are clearly seen, including Legazpi’s navigator, the Augustinian friar Andres de Urdaneta. Yet Sikatuna is painted in great detail, with his gleaming salakot, his dagger with a gold hilt, a tattoo on his muscular arm, and the elaborate carabao-horn-and-chain-mail armor—all suggesting a proud, pre-conquest, pre-Spanish culture. We do not see the actual drawing or drinking of blood on Luna’s canvas, and this is probably what makes his painting more engaging. Something was left to the imagination.
No doubt Luna was provided historical advice by his future brother-in-law, the scholar Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, who posed as Legazpi, and also by Jose Rizal, who posed as Sikatuna. Luna and Rizal took great pride in pre-Spanish culture, unlike many people today who associate Legazpi and Urdaneta only with upscale gated communities in Makati, and Sikatuna as a village in suburban Quezon City. Let’s hope that the government officials who see Luna’s “El Pacto de Sangre” in Malacañang decide what to do with Bohol’s irreplaceable heritage. Let’s hope they ask: Where do we go from here? What should history and heritage teach us about the past and the need to move on?
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