Virgin of La Naval vs. the dragon
The dragon has landed. This was this column piece’s first title but it seemed to portend defeat, so I decided to change it. The fight against China’s bullying and territory grabbing is still going on, but the Philippines is not defeated.
Last week, China landed a plane on the Philippine-claimed Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the West Philippine Sea. Photos provided by the Center for Strategic and International Studies now show the reef with a 3,125-meter-long airstrip that China built even while it continues land-reclamation activities. The reef is also being claimed by Vietnam.
The Inquirer banner story last Monday (“China landing on PH reef hit” by Christine O. Avendaño, with the subhead “Manila to join Hanoi in protest”) was a portent of things to come—not of defeat but of Southeast Asian nations rising up to a Goliath, a bully.
“The Philippines will protest China’s landing a plane on an airstrip it has built on an artificial island in the hotly contested archipelago in the South China Sea,” Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Jan. 3.
“The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement late [on Jan. 2] saying Beijing had completed construction of an airfield on Philippine-claimed Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, and recently used a civilian plane to conduct a flight testing whether the facilities were up to civil-aviation standards.
“The statement immediately drew protest from Vietnam, which also claims Kagitingan, calling the reef Da Chu Thap.”
Shortly before 2015 ended, I sent post-Christmas and New Year’s greetings via e-mail and Facebook using a 1991 photo of myself all geared for coverage, standing beside a Philippine Air Force Nomad plane that just landed us on Pagasa Island, the biggest among the Philippine-claimed islands and reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands. My Christmas and New Year greetings were delayed because our beloved editor in chief Letty J. Magsanoc, without so much as a by your leave, left us for the Great Newsroom in the Sky on Christmas Eve. I, along with many others, was to write a tribute (cum recollections that date back to the dark martial law years) for the front page.
With my “Postcard from Pagasa” was my wish to be joined in my prayer: “Our Lady of La Naval, Star of the Sea, pray for us. Jesus, calm the seas, enlighten the judges of the international arbitration tribunal at The Hague so we could take back what is ours…”
A few days later, gasp, the dragon landed. Good thing that the dragon (commonly used as a representation of China) is a mythical creature because I eschew using animals to describe despicable human traits. But slaying a dragon is not against creation spirituality.
I have just finished reading the essay “La Naval de Manila” by Filipino literary icon Nick Joaquin, where he started off by describing the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and narrated how the combined fleets of Spain, Venice and the Papal States routed the Ottoman Turks. The battle was in the Mediterranean Sea, near the Gulf of Patras, Greece. Lepanto may be considered a prefigurement of the Philippines’ own La Naval story. From Lepanto, Joaquin segued to La Naval de Manila.
A backgrounder: Christopher Check, in his article “The Battle that Saved the Christian West,” described the Battle of Lepanto as “the most important naval contest in human history.” Thus was Oct. 7, the day of victory, proclaimed the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary whose intercession was believed to have saved the day for the Spanish fleet.
Wrote Check: “That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: ‘Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?’”
Joaquin was no less effusive in his literary recounting of the sea battle west of the Philippine archipelago and The Virgin’s intercessory power. Though outgunned and outnumbered, the Spanish-Filipino armada that sailed from Manila Bay, and wearing the prayer mantle of The Virgin, again and again routed the Dutch intruders that wanted to get hold of las islas.
The five battles from March to October of 1646 resulted in victory that saw the much superior Dutch fleet fleeing. Thus did La Virgen de La Naval aka Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, now enshrined in the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, become the patron of sea battles. She is Stella Maris, Star of the Sea.
Whether believer or nonbeliever, one should be able to appreciate that episode in history as one that had the stamp of courage fired by faith. But, to the believer, a display and effectiveness of what Joaquin called the Virgin’s “thaumaturgic powers” when she “wield[ed] her mighty beads in favor of a handful of islands: the small necklace-like archipelago that had been named after the brother of the Lepanto hero.”
Wrote Joaquin: “When we talk today of the need for some symbol to fuse us into a great people, we seem to forget that all over the country there lies this wealth of a ‘usable past,’ of symbols that have grown through the soil of the land and the marrow of its people.”
So it is the Virgin of La Naval de Manila as symbol that came to mind on the week of the latest Chinese intrusion. Many of us had resorted to oratio imperata before, and while expecting calamities. But as regards China’s bullying and territory grabbing, we have yet to gather in faith and prayer, to seek the thaumaturgic power of one “that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array.”
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