An Alternative View of Pedro Calungsod

Guest Article

By Andrew Lim
In the context of the Spanish-Chamorro Wars 1671-1698
Applying what a Filipino historian wrote, it could be a case of veneration without understanding.
Pedro Calungsod

Let me get this out of the way first: this is not an attack on the canonized Pedro Calungsod. The reverence for him by many Filipinos is well-placed and well-intentioned. Dying for one’s beliefs is a noble act, and there are lessons to be derived from it.

But history is indeed written by the victors, and this is no exception. What is sorely lacking is the viewpoint of the vanquished- the Chamorro natives.
The widely accepted context is that the indigenous peoples of the islands formerly known as the Ladrones were “barbarians”, “uncultured” and needed to be “saved” by converting them to Spanish Catholicism, which parallels the Philippine experience. This begs the questions of who defines what, and who needs to be saved from what.
There is plenty of historical evidence on the brutality of Spanish authorities in the Marianas – if it had happened today, the perpetrators would have been brought to the International Court of Justice in the Hague! Large scale clashes include Hurao’s attack on the Agana forts (1671-1672), Aguarin (1676-77) and the Apurguan uprising (1684).
Robert Haddock on A History of Health on Guam: “. . . as the Spanish eventually quelled the Chamorro rebellion, “peace” was established at the price of the extinction of a race.”
Francis X. Hezel, SJ writes: “ What began as a religious mission to proclaim the gospel of peace soon degenerated into an out-and out war of military conquest which, as the histories have it, killed off vast numbers of native Chamorros before the missionaries were finally able to make believers out of the few survivors.” (From Conversion to Conquest: the Early Spanish Mission in the Marianas, Journal of Pacific History, pp 115-137, 1982.)
An Infographic (Rappler, 10/21/2012) on the life of Calungsod states that “… Calungsod’s group is blamed for babies who got ill allegedly due to baptism.” This was not unfounded. Although baptismal water is unlikely the means of transmission, there is evidence that there was an introduction of new diseases – measles and smallpox, previously non-existent in the islands, and inadvertently brought in by the Spaniards themselves. The Chamorros had no natural immunity to these, and medical care by physicians was largely unavailable. Then there are also cases of infertility due to venereal diseases which was brought by Spanish soldiers. (Destiny’s Landfall, by Robert Rogers. p71.)
Based on the first census of the Marianas, the population in 1710 was a mere 3,539 – a big drop from an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 due to the combined effects of oppression and disease.


Hurao was a Chamorro chief who organized resistance to the Spaniards in the islands in the 1600s.
Read his speech to his fellowmen, it eerily sounds like the letters written by our own heroes:
The Spaniards would have done better to remain in their own country. We have no need of their help to live happily. Satisfied with what our islands furnish us, we desire nothing. The knowledge which they have given us has only increased our needs and stimulated our desires. They find it evil that we do not dress. If that were necessary, nature would have provided us with clothes. They treat us as gross people and regard us as barbarians. But do we have to believe them? Under the excuse of instructing us, they are corrupting us. They take away from us the primitive simplicity in which we live.
They dare to take away our liberty, which should be dearer to us than life itself. They try to persuade us that we will be happier, and some of us had been blinded into believing their words. But can we have such sentiments if we reflect that we have been covered with misery and illness ever since those foreigners have come to disturb our peace?
Chamorro Agriculture by Js. Arago

Before they arrived on the island, we did not know insects. Did we know rats, flies, mosquitoes, and all the other little animals which constantly torment us? These are the beautiful presents they have made us. And what have their floating machines brought us? Formerly, we do not have rheumatism and inflammations. If we had sickness, we had remedies for them. But they have brought us their diseases and do not teach us the remedies. Is it necessary that our desires make us want iron and other trifles which only render us unhappy?
The Spaniards reproach us because of our poverty, ignorance and lack of industry. But if we are poor, as they tell us, then what do they search for? If they didn’t have need of us, they would not expose themselves to so many perils and make such efforts to establish themselves in our midst. For what purpose do they teach us except to make us adopt their customs, to subject us to their laws, and to remove the precious liberty left to us by our ancestors? In a word, they try to make us unhappy in the hope of an ephemeral happiness which can be enjoyed only after death.
They treat our history as fable and fiction. Haven’t we the same right concerning that which they teach us as incontestable truths? They exploit our simplicity and good faith. All their skill is directed towards tricking us; all their knowledge tends only to make us unhappy. If we are ignorant and blind, as they would have us believe, it is because we have learned their evil plans too late and have allowed them to settle here.
Let us not lose courage in the presence of our misfortunes. They are only a handful. We can easily defeat them. Even though we don’t have their deadly weapons which spread destruction all over, we can overcome them by our large numbers. We are stronger than we think! We can quickly free ourselves from these foreigners! We must regain our former freedom!
As told to French Jesuit Father Charles Le Gobien, secretary to the French Jesuit missions in 1700. ( Histories des Isles Marianes Paris 1700.)
Thankfully, in current times, the respect for indigenous cultures is now part of CBCP teaching.
Viewed from this perspective, Pedro Calungsod, by being a loyal ally/assistant of the imperialist Spanish forces led by Diego de Luis de San Vitores , was a small player in the subjugation of an indigenous people that had its own thriving society and culture. Rina Jimenez-David, the Inquirer writer cites his small role in her opinion column, “Saintly saling pusa” (saintly accidental participant).
In reality, it was an imperialist war; it was a war to gain access to more resources and to establish a forward staging base for the Spaniards in the ongoing battle with Portugal and England for world supremacy at the time.
So next time you feel like praying for intercession from Blessed Calungsod, say a prayer, too for the Chamorros who suffered and died defending what was really their own – their land and their culture – from an invading force.
It should make you ask: Is the destruction of an indigenous culture worth the price of missionary work, of which Calungsod was part of?
  1. A History of Guam, Lawrence Cunningham and Janice Beaty. Bess Press 2001. Guam Department of Education.
  2. The Chamorro Spanish War 1671-1698. The Guam Website. (http:// NS.Gov.Gu)
  3. Diego Luis de San Vitores Wikipedia entry.
  4. Hurao’s speech.
  5. Saintly “saling pusa” by Rina Jimenez-David, Inquirer column October 20, 2012.
  6. Northern Mariana Islands. Spanish colonial rule, .p2.
  7. Timeline: Pedro Calungsod, Inquirer October 21, 2012.
  8. Destiny’s Landfall, Robert Rogers. University of Hawaii Press. 1995.
  9. What history says about Pedro Calungsod by Paterno Esmaquel II Rappler article October 21, 2012.
  10. Infographic: Life of Pedro Calungsod, Visayan teenage saint, Rappler article, October 21, 2012.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of The Society of Honor, Joe America, other contributors or those who comment on this blog.
21 Responses to “An Alternative View of Pedro Calungsod”
  1. Attila says:

    Filipino culture is full of contradiction. Enough to make you feel schizophrenic.

  2. Edgar Lores says:

    Andrew,1. First off, fantastic piece for providing a view from the other side.2. As I gather, Calungsod was the assistant of the Jesuit missionary, San Vitores. Together they forcibly baptised the daughter of Chief Mata’pang, and were killed by the angered Mata’pang with the aid of Hirao. The Church calls Calungsod’s death martyrdom; the natives would call it justifiable homicide due to bad manners.3. Subsequently in reprisal, the Spanish imperialists killed more than 20,000 Chamorros in a war that lasted more than 25 years. Spain would call this conquest; the natives would call it genocide. And the Church was complicit in this genocide.4. Hurao’s analysis of religion is relevant to all time: “… they try to make us unhappy in the hope of an ephemeral happiness which can be enjoyed only after death.” Wow! This echoes the 13th verse of the Rubaiyat, the one that proclaims, “…Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go / Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!”5. The last question: “Is it worth it?” From the personal perspective, the Rubaiyat says NO. From the institutional perspective, the genocidal Church claims it is no longer “a religion robbed with colonial cultural superiority”. It has apologized for its “sins” committed against indigenous peoples and pledges everything possible to protect them. You are right, Andrew. What the Church calls “sins” are crimes against humanity and would now be within the jurisdiction of the ICJ.6. Final comments:6.1 The canonization of Calungsod is clearly an attempt by the local Church to stave off institutional death by attrition. The likeness of Calungsod to a Ken doll demonstrates the depths of absurdity that the Church can sink to in its efforts at re-evangelization.6.2 Everything is wrong about the doll. Not only the representation – the white complexion, the big eyes; the brown eyebrows; the small bump of a nose – but the existence of the representation itself. This is pure and simple idolatry.6.3 The government can be interpreted to be in violation of the Constitution in its support of this religious strategy, which violation will forever be captured by the "cute" photo of the Vice President embracing the Pedrito Ken doll.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Bato bato sa langit Sniper fire! Brings back memories of Joffe's film The Mission. Whoever said the rootword of colonialization is colon or gut.DocB

  4. andrew lim says:

    I guess other cultures have contradictions, too. But on days when I feel pessimistic, I attribute these contradictions to a poverty of the mind, arising from real poverty.

  5. andrew lim says:

    Thanks. I guess most Filipinos picture the missionaries in the 1600s as baby-Faced Mormons- clean cut and sporting white shirts with black name tags, who will politely turn away when you ask them to.If they only knew that they brought "horses and bayonets". ha ha haI dont have much of a problem with the Pinoy Catholic's obsession with dolls, as long as it results in the application of the faith to daily life. If it doesn't, then it's no different from the NBA or GI Joe action figures. Which makes me think, perhaps Mattel can make an accurate Calungsod doll with a companion Chamorro warrior, and a Fr. de san Vitores missionary doll, too. Call it the Colonial collection! But you're right- the Pedrito doll doesnt look like Ronald Tubid (the PBA player), whom the portrait was patterned after. At least the portrait captures Tubid's face while taking a free throw. 🙂

  6. andrew lim says:

    I should look up that movie. Wasn't aware of it, and Googled it. Looks very interesting. The Jesuits are heroes there, caught between the Spanish and Portuguese authorities.

  7. Coco says:

    Every organization/nation has its culture, every culture has its hero’s / saints. A political party has, Greenpeace has, the holibi’s have, so did the communist red army, the Khmer Rouge or the Mafia. Studying the actions of those hero’s tells you a lot of the organization’s values and culture. Studying the actions of Rizal, Bonifacio or Aguinaldo tells a lot about the Philippine culture.With all the respect for the boy, but if an adult brings a 14 year old boy willingly in harm’s way and then the boy becomes a hero because he did get killed,then doesn’t this tell something on how precious the live of a child is for that organization? Martyrdom for beliefs is not something to promote for children.(My personal patron Saint was a child martyr too 😉

  8. andrew lim says:

    I read a commenter's take on this on a news forum- viewed from 2012, Calungsod was a victim of child labor, an undocumented alien, and the white man's slave. Depends on when and how you look at it. It also reminds me of that Washington sniper, who terrorized the city for several weeks. He had a teenager as an accomplice.

  9. Coco, the protestant churches I've been attached to all Have "youth ministeries" which basically involve peer recrutiment and instruction. They aren't really jobs, as much as "active testimonials". The Mormon Church has missionary "work", but I think you have to be 18 to be so engaged. It is peculiar that Pedro Calungsod would be put in such dangerous circumstances in a foreign land at such a young age. It smacks of Taliban using teens for suicide bombing, and maybe that's where the Church was a few hundred years ago. It is peculiar that the Church would raise the young man to sainthood on the basis of a couple of miracles that I'd suspect impress many as prety flimsy evidence, and maybe even superstition.On the other hand, I think the impending appointment of the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Tagle, to Cardinal, on the basis of his humility and theological depth, is the kind of step that makes sense for a Church that is trying to find a way out of the pit its rigid adherence to outdated doctrine drives it into. Example, no women priests.

  10. Edgar Lores says:

    1. In Rappler, Archbishop Tagle is seen as espousing “a humbler, simpler church with a greater capacity for silence”.2. He is quoted as saying in part, that the Church should “not pretend that we have all the solutions and all the answers.” Moreover, referring to Asian people, he continues, “…the Church can just sometimes be silent with them, be as confused as they are, also telling them, ‘You know, we share the same situation of confusion and searching.’”3. These statements are surreal. The great Catholic Church, that has claimed it is the one true Church and imposed its infallible interpretation of faith and dogma through the sword and the cross for so many centuries, is now in “confusion and searching”? Please.4. This is a strategic retreat of the Church in the face of its worldwide crisis involving clerical sexual abuse, power abuse and doctrinal arrogance. It’s a Romney-esque reversal of face to appear appealing to all believers. The Church is a wolf struggling to fit into sheep’s clothing.5. I do not buy it.

  11. Well, for sure, it will take more than one man to align the Catholic Church with modern values, like true equality between genders or acceptance of homossexuality as God-given, not always learned. Or understanding that repression of natural sexual desires leads to unnatural sexual acts, grossly sinful acts, including the covering up of those acts.I wish the term "confusion" had been set aside in favor of simply "searching", which I think the Church ought to do more of, rather than pontificating. Interesting the root word of pontificating, eh?I think it is a challenge for a Church to remain relevant in a period of rapid intellectual evolution. Open-mindedness is needed to find flexibility, and my sense is that Archbishop Tagle strives as much as strictures and criptures allow to be open-minded, rather than autocratic, and that is a good thing.This pudding will take about 20 years to bake, I suspect.

  12. andrew lim says:

    I dont share Edgar's cynicism that much; I give individuals like Tagle the benefit of the doubt. In an interview of Tagle in March 2012, he was asked why there is so much corruption "in the most Catholic country in Asia." I smiled at his answer, "Where did we fail? … Are we able to form consciences? …" There is humility in the man.This is much better than what an Oscar Cruz or other bishop would probably answer, where they put all the blame and responsibility on government and on the people,forgetting the immense influence the Church has on Filipino culture and behavior. Link: suspect it has to do with the level of intellect of the person; Tagle, just like Bernas are at that high level which can appreciate spectrums of thought. But of course, I don't have illusions that they will go against the Vatican or the Magisterium at any point.

  13. Andrew Lim is skirting Papal Bulls Ex-communication. That is OK. Irresponsibly religious Filipinos are more dangerous. They take religion seriously. Never take Pedro's name in vain. I got a question. Pedro's haircut. It is parted in the middle unpomaded. Instead of Jose Rizal-like haircut vogue in those days. Pedro is more like modern-day Tondo dweller instead 18th century look.

  14. A true intellectual revolution in the Philippines happens Once Filipinos believe in them first before God. That success is not because of God but because of Filipinos. Failure not because of Filipinos but because of God. Instead of the other way around.One separate Americans, Europeans and progressive neighboring countries of the Philippines is they believe in themselves, only believe god if nothing else works.

  15. andrew lim says:

    That's probably because he was modeled after Ronald Tubid, the PBA player. Tubid, who is from Iloilo, played for UE in college. Fr Catalino Arevalo saw him on TV and decided Calungsod probably looked like him.

  16. Attila says:

    I'm fascinated by your culture. Warts and all!

  17. Edgar Lores says:

    Andrew,Thanks for the link.1. I do not totally doubt – underscore totally – the sincerity of Archbishop Tagle. It is mostly the sincerity of the Church that I doubt.2. The Archbishop seems to recognize the problems of corruption and poverty, and is able to admit possible failure on the part of the Church.3. But, say, with regards to poverty, and the attendant problem of squatters and violence, he does not admit the possible correlation of these problems to overpopulation. He is still pro RH Bill. So I ask: Where is the sincerity?4. On the problem of corruption, again he sees the cause in the lack of formation of individual conscience in spite of the top people in government service being from Catholic schools. For this he has no answer.5. My concern is that the Church hierarchy is simply out to continue to extend its power, and is using good-cop/bad-cop psychology. This is mainly an interrogation technique, but it is also manipulative in that it offers the hope of religious reformation in the current morass of clerical corruption.6. The Archbishop’s posture of “confusion and searching” may be genuine for him, but is it true for the Church as a whole? 7. Bernas and Tagle are good cops, but in Bernas I sense an air of intellectual egotism and dishonesty. He awes people with his alleged mental prowess and leads them to the precipice at the edge of faith, but he does not jump. If he does, I think he would find it liberating. 8. I do not have a sense of Tagle yet, except for the goodwill he emanates. Both clerics are constrained by the magisterium as it is codified right now.9. Rome will have to greatly revise its thinking to step into the modern world. It is being closely watched: social media has not only made a great impact in the political sphere but also in the spiritual sphere. Before any true reformation can take place, I think the church hierarchy must develop consciences of their own. This has been sadly lacking in their response to sexual abuse in the church.10. If I seem iconoclastic, I have reason to be. Have you, for example, seen the film “Deliver Us from Evil”?

  18. andrew lim says:

    Interesting points.Points 1-3, 6: Tagle is in the minority, but as Cardinal he may be able to steer the hierarchy to a more moderate position. "Overpopulation" is a non-existent phenomenon to the CBCP.Point 4: I still have to see a substantial response to the Transparency International Corruption Index ratings from the CBCP. The only ones I got were from two lay apologists- Boncan the blogger and Stefanick, who visited Manila for a talk. Both admitted to higher corruption levels in Catholic dominated countries, but expanded the definition of corruption to include abortion, same sex marriage, etc. Sneaky!Point 5, 8: Let us wait and see. Do you feel they strategize and appoint who's going to play good/bad cops? That's devious of them!Point 7: Ha ha I hope Bernas gets to read your description of him. He has been crucified by both pro and anti RH camps. Point 9, 10: I should watch that docu. What I don't get is why the hierarchy doesn't come down hard with consistency on their erring members. Take the case of Monsignor Garcia of Cebu, the one involved in the blood ivory issue. He was already dismissed by the Dominicans for pederasty in the US, but wormed his way up again through the Cebu hierarchy. He was given the honorary "Monsignor" title and given new responsibilities. How did that happen? It seems they dont operate cohesively. Either that, or they cover up and re-assign to avoid lawsuits. This has led to movements like the Keep the Faith, Change the Church in the US. Maybe it's time to set up something like that here.

  19. Edgar Lores says:

    Erratum: Item 3 the Archbishop is anti RH Bill.

  20. raissa says:

    I am waiting for the Church to make that link between St. Calungsod and voting against RH.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Mariano, there's got to be a couple of centuries separating Calungsod from Rizal. I doubt they'd have the same hairstyle. In any case, both of them aren't from the 18th century.

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