Lapu-lapu’s monument and Philippine media

by Glenn Cabrera,

Reactions to the new Lapu-lapu monument published in Philippine newspapers had been almost uniformly disparaging. It is as if there had been a "public-relations campaign" to discredit this project. Of course newspaper writers may just have been voicing their personal sentiments. Nevertheless, given the existence of envelopmental journalism in the country, or what is alternatively called nowadays as AC-DC journalism (that is, "attack and collect, defend and collect" journalism), anything is possible. This is not meant to impugn the integrity of those who ridiculed the monument. My view is that the responses to Lapu-lapu’s statue have more to do with institutional and personal biases than aesthetics and legal considerations.

The table below is an attempt to partially capture newspaper "coverage" of this monument in the weeks surrounding its public inauguration at the Luneta Park.

Table 1. Philippine newspaper "coverage" of the Lapu-lapu monument in Rizal Park, January 16-February 28, 2004





Avila, Valeriano S., "Mike Rama: Speaking out in defense of Lapu-lapu!" The Freeman News

January 16, 2004

Coscolluela, Maria Carrissa O., Letter to the editor, Philippine Daily Inquirer

February 10, 2004

Editorial, "National Heroes Park," Abante

February 9, 2004




Ocampo, Ambeth, "Gordon’s latest folly," Philippine Daily Inquirer

January 16, 2004

Sison, Jesus C., "Poe is nobody’s man," Malaya

January 19[?], 2004

Espina, Erik, "The Rizal and Lapu-lapu monuments," Manila Bulletin

February 4, 2004

Mata, Nestor, "Parties and politics," Malaya

February 17 [?], 2004

Centina, Gilbert Luis, III, O.S.A., "Silver linings," People’s Tonight (a)

February ??, 2004

Editorial, "Lapu-lapu at the Park," Manila Times

February 22, 2004

Alcazaren, Paulo, "Wow! What a monument!" Philippine Star

February 22, 2004

Alcazaren, Paulo. "WOW: Statues, stamps & special architecture," Philippine Star

February 28, 2004

(a) Centina published reactions to the Lapu-lapu monument and the Light and Sound Museum on his regular column "Silver linings" for People’s Tonight.


As the table shows, the published reactions have come mostly from the stable of Philippine newspaper op-ed page writers. Few from outside this journalistic pool jumped into the "conversation." If some did, editors decided not to record their participation.

A somewhat belated entrant was the Manila Times, which in an editorial on February 22, declared —

Mr. Ambeth Ocampo, NHI chair, invokes a resolution approved by the board in 1995 which declares the park as a "national historical site"… A presidential decree [P.D. 1505] prohibits any person to modify, alter, repair or destroy the original features of any national shrine, monument or landmark, Mr. Ocampo reminds us….

It is clear that Mr. Gordon disregarded the authority of the NHI over the Rizal Park…. He should help facilitate the transfer of the Lapu-Lapu monument to a more appropriate place.

It is an extremely legalistic stance that strikes me as pharisaical. The spirit of P.D. 1505 is to preserve the nation’s historical memory. Lapu-lapu’s monument is meant to do just that—preserve his memory and achievement in the national consciousness.

On the same day in the Philippine Star, Paulo Alcazaren, the paper’s writer on architectural topics and urban planning, also launched the first of his two-part attack. Attack is the right word to use since Alcazaren has called Lapu-lapu’s statue as a "monumental blight." Elsewhere in this same article are allusions to some "flawed history, flawed monument" and previous historical writings by Filipino historians on Lapu-lapu as spins.

He slights the heroism of Lapu-lapu. In his view—

Ka Lapu-Lapu was a local head of a group that felt insulted that strange funny-smelling foreigners were trying to extend their hegemony this far from their home turf. There was no adversity, invasion or uprising either. Lapu-Lapu was not under any Spanish rule that he had to rise up against. The trip-weary Spaniards were outnumbered and easy pickings despite some advantage in weaponry. Neither was the defeat so outstanding that it caused the Spaniards to shake in fear…

In other words, Lapu-lapu was imagining threats and overreacting to the arrival of harmless Spanish visitors. This shows that the opposition to this monument has little to do with a desire for fidelity to Presidential Decree 1505, and more with a lingering historical bias against Lapu-lapu.

This newspaper-published view of Lapu-lapu has to be contrasted with the uncritical— even flattering—depiction of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi published by the Philippine Star on March 4, written by the publisher’s wife. Legazpi of course represents what Lapu-lapu fought against. Were he alive when Legazpi established himself in the islands, Lapu-lapu would have defied him too. (An interesting question in Philippine history is how Legazpi dealt with the descendants and tribe of Lapu-lapu.)

On the Philippine Star

My favorite Philippine newspaper has displayed a more clerical preference in recent years. Currently there are at least 4 priests writing regularly for its op-ed pages— James Reuter, S.J. (long associated with the CBCP’s Office of Media Affairs), Miguel Bernad, S.J., Ruben M. Tanseco, S.J., and Jesus V. Fernandez, S.J. (the last two appear to be alternating on a religious column called "God’s word for today"). It is a rather mystifying preference--in a nation of some 80 million people, can’t the publishers find other people to write for them?—unless the Catholic Church/Archdiocese of Manila or the Jesuit order in the Philippines partly owns the paper. I have to warn the reader that I am speculating here as I am not knowledgeable about the history of the Philippine Star. I cannot confirm if it or its parent company is a public corporation, whose shares are traded on the Philippine Stock Exchange, or a private one. Who are the major owners of the Philippine Star?

"Policy coherence" and the weak Philippine state

Regarding public historical education, the situation in the country can be summed up this way—a Benedictine monk heads the National Historical Institute, another priest directs the National Museum of the Philippines, and Ricardo Manapat overseas the National Archives. According to Teodoro Benigno of the Philippine Star, Manapat was a protégé of a Jesuit priest in the country, Jose Blanco. (Benigno, Teodoro, "Remembering Manapat," Philippine Star, 26 January 2004). The latter fact, by itself, does not necessarily mean anything conspiratorial. However, Manapat’s sudden interest to head the National Archives while he was working for an investment firm in the U.S. is puzzling. There is little in what he had done or written prior to his applying for this position to indicate an interest in historical or archival research. (He seems to be currently studying for a master’s degree in Spanish at the University of the Philippines.) My sense from reading the Newsbreak article on him (Hofileña, Chay Florentino, "Ricardo Manapat: Is He Playing Smart?" Newsbreak, 16 February 2004) is that he was appointed by the Ramos administration to head the National Archives on account of the political work he had done for the family of Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. He wrote a short tract, Some are smarter than others, on the Marcoses and their  friends shortly after graduating from college (later expanded into a book and published while he was in the U.S.). How he was able to develop sources and persuade them to tell him about their knowledge of the Marcoses and their cronies speaks of his impressive connections.

Compared with this coherent clerical vision for public historical education in the country, the Philippine state can indeed seem "rudderless."

Let me state here that I have personally nothing against Ambeth Ocampo, the Benedictine monk who is the present director the National Historical Institute, nor do I belittle the writing he has done in the field of Philippine history. He represents the latest in the country’s tradition of clerical historians, but he is a break from the mold in that he can be more forthcoming.


Alcazaren’s major issues

Alcazaren writes in his first article on this subject—

The idea for the statue was supposedly hatched by former Tourism Secretary Gordon to "give recognition to the first Asian who fought against foreign invasion." Mr. Wow is quoted as saying, "Lapu-Lapu is one of the greatest Filipino heroes…." Well…in the first place, there was no Filipino nation then…

It is true that the overpowering force of Spanish rule, justified primarily on religious grounds of bringing the heathen natives into the fold of Catholicism, brought the disunited tribes in the islands together (a situation that had its parallel in Spanish history when the marriage of the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, paved the way for the political unification of the fractious kingdoms of Spain). Since there was no Filipino nation then, how can Lapu-lapu have historical significance for the Filipino nation as it is constituted at present? In Alcazaren’s view, Lapu-lapu’s monument should not be defended based on his "meaning" for the Filipino nation. It did not exist during his time. The gravitas of this argument is more apparent than real. Most Filipinos at present would consider Lapu-lapu as one of them. His ethnicity undoubtedly plays a role in this historical affinity. (Lapu-lapu of course would have resisted against his being called after a future occupant of the Spanish throne. Lapu-lapu’s descendants, if they survived Legazpi and his conquistadores and if they had not participated in the revolts against Spanish colonial rule, would now be called Filipinos—assuming that they are still in the Philippines and had not migrated.)

There indeed appears to be an identity issue involved here, though not one involving a division between Tagalogs and Cebuanos as Alcazaren implies—

The question, however, was not that of Lapu-Lapu’s valor compared to Rizal’s, or of his ranking in the national hierarchy of heroes, although this seems to be what non-Manilans believe Manileños are harping about. Visayans are jamming the Internet chat rooms with countering arguments like "(The) Cebuano’s revenue is good enough for Manila but the Cebuano, as an individual, is not good enough for Luneta." Or: "It’s about time we brought to the forefront pre-Spanish colonialist butt busters like Sultan Kudarat, Rajah Sulayman, Princess Tarhata, Lakandula ... why settle for opportunist mestizo-wannabe opportunists like Rizal or Aguinaldo?"

(He alludes again to this later on when he writes of the country as a "work in progress.")

The identity issue is related to the historical attitudes—or bias—of Filipino mestizos concerning Lapu-lapu, who represents native opposition to Spanish colonization, which of course made possible Spanish migration to the Philippine islands and the establishment of Catholicism in Philippine society. To the extent that Lapu-lapu is viewed through this prism, he can be a divisive figure. For Tagalogs, Cebuanos, mestizos, Aetas, Filipino Muslims, etc. who view Lapu-lapu as standing for freedom, self-determination, and service to others, he is a unifying figure for the Filipino nation.

Lastly, concerning the other interesting point raised by Alcazaren—

Okay, let’s not get into that argument about how we celebrate death and defeat over more success-filled events and personalities in our mis-written history. That is left to bodies like the National Historical Institute and a new generation of more politically correct historians like its head, Ambeth Ocampo…

My reaction to that is, how many historians would take it as a compliment that their scholarship is considered "politically correct"? Politically correct scholarship has a place in fascist regimes where taboo issues exist, not in a democracy. (1)


Troubling aspects of this whole episode

Despite newspaper-channeled critical reactions to the Lapu-lapu monument, it could well be that the public’s attitudes are actually favorable, neutral, or at worst, apathetic.

This episode presents another case study of the problematic nature of (popular-media-channeled) historical discussion in the Philippines. It tends to be monopolized particularly by those who enjoy committed institutional support (that is, members of the Catholic clergy) and those who can afford not to have any real jobs (they have plenty of unencumbered time on their hands). In contrast, historians based at the country’s universities (public or private) have to contend with heavy teaching loads (as many as 16 it appears per academic year) and poor library facilities. Without public university reforms in the country, when historians are empowered to contribute toward expanding the nation’s historical understanding, it is difficult to diversify the content of public historical discourse, which is really mediated by the elite. The larger community of Filipino historians remains marginalized, while "favored historians" are pushed into the public square. For example, Professor Leslie Bauzon, who has done early groundbreaking work on Spanish colonial fiscal policy in the Philippines, is almost unheard of in the country, his historical research unnoticed. The Philippine media oligarchy had become the de facto arbiters of historical scholarship in the Filipino public’s mind.

Although the following contention calls for more rigorous documentation, I maintain that this longstanding condition also explains why there are dominant recurring themes in popular historical writing. One recurring theme is really an apologia for the history of Spanish imperialism/Spanish Catholicism in the country. Another dominant theme is American imperialism/the Filipino-American War (oftentimes expressed in the best approximation of polished (American) English prose calculated to awe insecure Filipino readers suffering from the effects of inadequate English-language instruction). It is in this context that newspaper-published reactions to the Light and Sound Museum should be viewed. (See Table 2 below.) While there has been general complacency about this enduring counterproductive national obsession with the history of American imperialism in the Philippines, critical interpretations of the history of Spanish imperialism in the Philippines such as offered by the Light and Sound Museum are a different matter. Because this new museum has done so—to borrow a hyperbole— "Everyone is up in arms."

Table 2. Newspaper "coverage" of the new Light & Sound Museum (a)





Contreras, Volt, "P130-M museum goes
beyond Rizal's heroism," Inquirer News Service

December 29[?], 2003

Bocobo, Dean Jorge, " 'Porqu‚ no est en Español esto comentario,' " Philippine Daily Inquirer

January ??, 2004




Harper, Bambi Limoglia, "The gospel according to Dick," Philippine Daily Inquirer

January 3, 2004

Zialcita, Fernando Nakpil, "Darkness in Intramuros," Philippine Daily Inquirer

January 9, 2004

Arcilla, Jose S., S.J., "Juicio de residencia," BusinessWorld

January 26, 2004

Wilson, Isabel Caro, "History and distortions," BusinessWorld

February 18, 2004

Centina, Gilbert Luis, III, O.S.A., "Silver linings," People’s Tonight (b)

February ??, 2004


(a) This table does not pretend to include all Philippine-newspaper articles on the Light and Sound Museum. Published criticisms would seem to indicate that opposition to Richard Gordon’s Light & Sound Museum is coming from the clergy and Filipino mestizos.

(b) Centina published reactions to the Lapu-lapu monument and the Light and Sound Museum on his regular column "Silver linings" for People’s Tonight.


In closing, these are the challenges that face those of us who work toward a more forthcoming, less clericalist Philippine history—how to deal with the Philippine media oligarchy and its power to determine the scope of public historical discussion and insinuate it into the public’s awareness, to push for reforms of the country’s public universities (not just U.P.), and facilitate Filipinos’ confrontation with the historical record by increasing access to archival materials. At the same time, we need to guard against personal biases originating from our ethnic, religious, and class background.



(1) The following passage comes from a (U.S.) textbook discussion of the "elements of fascist doctrine and policy," which is instructive--

"Psychologically, fascism is fanatical rather than reflective, dogmatic rather than open-minded; as a result each fascist regime has its taboo issues such as race, empire, the leader, and it is the nature of a taboo issue that it must be accepted on faith and cannot be critically discussed….As a matter of basic principle, democracy recognizes no taboo issue: there is no subject that cannot be questioned or challenged, not even the validity of democracy itself. In practice, of course, democracies do not always live up to that ideal….The individual, too, may have taboo issues, dark corners in his heart or mind that must not be pulled out and subjected to rational examination. The mentally healthy individual has few, or (ideally) no, taboo issues, because he is able to face reality as it is and does not insist on living in a dream world in defiance of reality. Psychologically, the existence of taboo issues in the individual or in a group, party, or nation is due to a sense of insecurity or guilt, or both…" (Ebenstein, William (1961), Today’s ISMS: Communism, Fascism, Capitalism, Socialism, 3rd edition, pp. 105-6.)




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