The murder of George Floyd shocked and traumatized us! This brought back memories of what the American military did to our people at the beginning of the 20th century. They killed hundreds of thousands of our people in the process of colonizing our archipelago. Our people experienced systemic racism in our own native land. The lamentations of our elders and the psychosocial trauma surfaced again. This is our expression of lamentation, outrage, and global cry for radical transformation against systemic racism and supremacist states.
I first learned about the journey of our people through oral tradition. As a young boy, our town plaza in Sta. Maria, Laguna was the primary story-telling venue, usually done after supper, during my early elementary school years. My Tia Itas—Felicitas Pantoja-Valdecantos, an elder sister of my Ama (father)—was my first ‘oral history teacher.’ I learned from her the story of revolutionaries in our town who fought the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese. I learned from her how my Ama, the mayor of our town during the Japanese occupation, was tortured by elements of the Japanese Imperial Army. He was part of a local guerilla unit fighting the invaders.
Unlike reading history books written by the colonizers or by their commissioned historians, my memories include the lamentations of our elders.
Similar stories of injustice and oppression, like that of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in America and around the world, make me and many Filipinos experience the pains and sufferings our elders and ancestors went through.
Our family was also surrounded by American baptist missionaries. My Ama became a lay pastor in this religious denomination. I was exposed to the indoctrination of a very conservative evangelical religious community. As a brown Malay child, I really believed that the Americans were sent by God to the Filipino people to liberate us from the Spaniards through democratic ideals, to bring the Gospel to us, and to educate us. In retrospect, I was actually ‘brainwashed’ as a child into an American Zionist ideology, wrapped in a Christian set of jargons.
During my high school days, I saw how the U.S. military personnel treated my Filipino sisters and brothers in Olongapo City, an urban center adjacent to the Subic Naval Base, where the officers and rank-and-file men and women of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet spent their rest and recreation time during the Vietnam War. As a teenager trained by a more progressive group of Filipino Christian leaders to do critical thinking through Inductive Bible Study, I questioned the incoherent presence of the Americans in our country. The American missionaries were teaching us how to go to heaven, while their military protectors were sending my peers to hell by treating those local economically-impoverished folks as $10-per-night sex slaves.
That was the circumstance when I decided to join a revolutionary youth movement to fight against US imperialism and the Marcos dictatorial regime. After studying in a Bible college, I went to the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines and completed a master’s degree program in Asian Studies. I went back to Olongapo City and worked as a college instructor — teaching history, political science, and sociology — and organized a progressive community of Jesus followers.
Recently, more and more researches have been surfacing that reveal the war crimes of the United States against the Filipino people.
U.S. War Crimes in the Philippines
The U.S. Imperialist War in the Philippines happened at the beginning of the 20th century. Through food blockades and armed violence by American military against unarmed civilians, around 250,000 of our people were massacred during this unjust war. 20,000 Filipino revolutionaries were killed in battle. Our ancestors also lamented for the 4,000 American personnel killed in battle. This deceptive, imperialistic war of the US government was a war not to liberate the Philippines but to project its power in Asia, to gain access to Asian market, and to control the rich natural resources of our islands.
When I saw the video below, I identified with the young story-teller.
I could have been that boy. But unlike that boy, it was only during my university years when I realized the sad realities behind the official narrative of American presence in the Philippines — as told by the missionaries who ‘discipled’ me.
The sad thing is that, the Philippine government is still subservient to US foreign policies. Under the current defense agreement our government has with the US, American armed forces can legally do —
:: military “training”;
:: transit of personnel and materiel;
:: support and related activities;
:: refueling of aircraft;
:: bunkering of vessels;
:: temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft;
:: temporary accommodation of personnel;
:: prepositioning of equipment, supplies and materiel;
:: deploying forces and materiel;
and such “other activities” as the US and Philippine governments may agree.
Through onerous agreements like this, the on-going train of historical injustices continues.
Joji and I are constantly faced with enormous instances of social injustices. Indigenous Peoples are being pushed out of their ancestral domains by state and non-state armed forces. Local farmers are pushed deeper into poverty due to unjust trading manipulations by the rich and powerful. Government promises of autonomy and right to self determination are constantly broken. We could tell endless stories of broken families, wasted lives, and devastated communities as direct and indirect results of historical injustices.
Because of these, we are challenged daily to critically-look at the overwhelming historical facts when Christian institutions and Christian empires misused the name of Jesus in the advancement of their greed for wealth and power. As a beneficiary of such religious imperialism, we’re facing the realities of the present conflicts it caused — in many parts of the world and in our country — with a repentant heart and a proactive ministry to help, even in our small contribution, to correct those historical injustices.
The corrective measures have to start with our exclusivist theology. The Roman Catholic doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus is a classic summary of the exclusivist approach to truth. Protestants expressed it in a different way: Outside Christianity there is no salvation. For example, a definition of missiology reads: “That branch of theology which in opposition to the non-Christian religions, shows the Christian religion to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life; which seeks to disposses the non-Christian religions and to plant in their stead in the soil of heathen national life the evangelic faith and the Christian life.”
This view of truth among Christians worked hand in hand with Western colonialism. The British East India Company and its evangelical business leaders, for example, helped in the “evangelization” of India in the early 19th century. In James Morris’ book, Heaven’s Command: An Imperial Progress (p. 74), he reports: “The Indian territories were allotted by providence to Great Britain, wrote Charles Grant, the evangelical chairman of the British East India Company’s Court of Directors, ‘not merely that we might draw an annual profit from them, but that we might diffuse among their inhabitants, once sunk in darkness, vice, and misery, the light and benign influence of the truth, the blessings of a well-regulated society, the improvements and comforts of active industry…’”
Until now, for many Christians who describe themselves as ‘conservative evangelicals,’ the Gospel is often reduced to the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). Christianity is then perceived as an exclusivist faith against all other religions condescendingly-tagged as ‘pagan.’ Many years ago, Christoph Schwöbel, in his article “Particularity, Universality, and the Religions” (published in a book Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, p. 38), made a profound warning on the kind of Christianity where the modern West was going: “The question that arises when God is presented as being exclusively at work in Christianity is whether this does not reduce the universality of God to such an extent that God is made to appear as the tribal deity of a rather imperialistic form of Western Christianity.” The present misuse of Christianity by the Trump regime in the United States of America is a clear demonstration of this tribalized god and its imperialistic, war-mongering religion.
All these imperialist and colonial misuse and abuse of the Gospel of Jesus Christ became a global-historical curse and it started way back in the 1400s — with the Doctrine of Discovery, which needs to be repudiated.
Repudiating the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’
One of the highlights in our journey as members of Mennonite Church Canada, and as field staff members of its International Witness, was the day we received the news that our sending church actually did repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. Here’s the actual content of the document:
A Resolution to the Mennonite Church Canada Delegate Assembly July 2016: The Church and the Doctrine of Discovery
It is the recommendation, supported by the individuals, congregations and Area Churches below:
1. That Mennonite Church Canada repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as it is fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent dignity and rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.
2. That a working group be formed by representatives of Mennonite Church Canada and Area Churches to begin by reviewing the church related recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, make the appropriate study material available to congregations, and make further periodic recommendations to the General Board/Area Church Boards on steps along the path of reconciliation.
As Canadian citizens who originally come from the Philippines — a nation that had been colonized by the Spaniards and the Americans, sanctioned by the Doctrine of Discovery — we read about, and have directly witnessed, the marginalization of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. We heard testimonials on the abuse of children in the residential schools. We saw the racial discrimination against the Indigenous Peoples in various sectors of the Canadian society — academic, business, church, government, police, and military. Regrettably, I kept my silence for most of my years in Canada. Like most immigrant families, my wife and I had to establish our respective means of income to provide a decent upbringing for our children in a stable home. And, as a burnt-out revolutionary going through a process of healing, I avoided getting too involved in any activism.
Then we followed the journey of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from June 2008 to June 2015 even as Joji and I kept busy in our peacebuilding mission in Mindanao. When I read the TRC Reports, I personally experienced a sort of theological-ethical crisis for a couple of months. How could the Christian Church, to which I belong, intentionally and significantly contributed to the oppression of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, specifically in destroying generations of children’s lives by uprooting them from their families and communities?
This 30-minute video talk by Jennifer Henry of Kairos Canada resonated exactly what went through my heart and mind during those weeks when I was struggling with the Doctrine of Discovery and how it corrupted the practice of my Christian faith. Jennifer Henry’s talk also helped me process what it means to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as a Canadian Christian.
Radical Transformation Through Active NonViolence
In the context of the Philippines, the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery includes a radical transformation through active non-violence.
We see the violent system of patronage politics of the oligarchies, supported by global economic-political-military powers, as the historical effects of the Doctrine of Discovery. The instinctive response of many against the violence of patronage politics would be violence. But responding to the oligarchs with violence only increases their power because they thrive on violence. The violence of injustice will only be exacerbated by the injustice of violence. Violence begets violence.
The best approach to respond to violence is through active non-violence. Through this approach, we take the oligarchs outside their sphere of power. A radical, active non-violent transformation is what we need to really empower our people and thus liberate our nation. This is what Peter Ackerman and Jack Duval pointed out in “Victory without Violence,” A Force More Powerful, p. 505: “The power of active nonviolence has been shown in recent history. People power in the twentieth century did not grow out of the barrel of a gun. It removed rulers who believed that violence was power, by acting to dissolve their real source of power: the consent or acquiescence of the people they had tried to subordinate. When unjust laws were no longer obeyed, when commerce stopped because people no longer worked, when public services could no longer function, and when armies were no longer feared, the violence that governments could use no longer mattered — their power to make people comply had disappeared.”
But because there is so much fear of the unknown in the path of non-violent radical transformation, many Filipinos would rather stay in the familiar state of their slavery rather than to cross, by faith, the yet-to-be-parted, uncertain waters toward liberation. Some, who are comfortable in their current privileges, would rather maintain the status quo of injustice. Their self-interest is their god. They need to realize that the present system of injustice is violence. Some, who are blinded by false sense of peace, that of seeming calmness brought about by anti-insurgency, will hang-on tightly on the present system.
Many Filipino Christian leaders are afraid of chaos. But there will be no genuine change without chaos. And chaos does not necessarily mean violence. The birth of a child is a painful chaos in the life of a mother. The coming of a baby is chaos in the journey of a family. Chaos must not be violent. Chaos may bring life!
Post Script: This sermon by The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, addressing the historical and structural injustice in America, fits well as a concluding piece in this blog.