“If the criminal case had succeeded, ignorance would have triumphed.”
Several months ago, the “Limasawa 6,” eminent historians scrutinizing the GPS of the First Easter Sunday Mass, were subjects of criminal cases filed against them in Butuan City, domain of an ancient kingdom where the mighty Agusan River meanders into the Bohol Sea.
The Golden Tara, the statue of a Hindu Sivaite deity, was discovered there and so were the remains of balanghays, swift trading vessels of pre-colonial times.
In November 2018, Rene Escalante, chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, gathered six eminent historians, to determine for the third time the thorny question of where the First Easter Sunday Mass was held — in Limasawa or Butuan?
To comply with their civic duty, the following historians joined the panel formed by Escalante — Dr. Resil Mojares, professor emeritus of San Carlos University; Dr. Antonio Francisco B. De Castro, SJ, Ateneo de Manila University professor and representative of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines; the Spaniard Dr. Carlos Madrid Alvarez-Piñer of the University of Guam; Dr. Danilo M. Gerona, director of the Center for Partido Studies, Partido State University; Dr. Francis M. Navarro of the Ateneo de Manila University, and Dr. Jose Victor Z. Torres of De La Salle University.
The panel members are a bookish lot, weaving their way through ancient tomes like bookworms while dredging historical data. They are also prolific authors of books about Philippine history.
Dr. Mojares, National Artist, wrote the seminal Brains of the Nation and 33 other books. Dr. de Castro has written countless articles on history and will soon publish a book about the Jesuits in the Philippines. He has a doctorate in Ecclesiastical History from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Dr. Madrid is the author of Flames of Baler and several other books on Philippine history. He is an awardee of the Governor’s Humanities Award given by the government of Northern Marianas. Dr. Gerona is the author of the highly acclaimed book Ferdinand Magellan and His Armada de Maluco plus 35 other books. He was awarded the University of the Philippines Chancellor’s Award. Dr. Navarro is the author of countless research papers and is the winner of the Erasmus Award given by the University of Lisbon. Dr. Torres is the author of Ciudad Murada and 15 other books. He is a five-time recipient of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature.
After exhaustive research and thorough analysis, this bookish band of prolific authors concluded that Limasawa was indeed the place where the first Holy Mass was celebrated.
Almost immediately they were criminally charged for libel and falsification before the fiscal’s office of Butuan City. The case was dismissed and thereafter a motion for reconsideration was filed.
The Prosecutor’s Office again dismissed the case. Thus ruled the equally learned prosecutors of Butuan: “In this case, Executive Order No. 55, series of 2018, created the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC). And pursuant to its mandate, a panel was constituted by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) Chairman Rene Escalante to study the location of the 1521 First Easter Sunday Mass in the Philippines, and thus the Mojares Panel.
“As correctly pointed out by the respondents Mojares Panel, the study, and subsequent Mojares Report, was premised upon the faithful discharge of functions by the NHCP, and the task mandated by the President to the NQC.
“And thus, the Mojares Report is considered as a privileged communication. Finding no new and additional evidence adduced by the private complainant, the undersigned does not find any cogent reasons to disturb its original findings. Wherefore, complainant’s Motion for Reconsideration is hereby denied.”
Thus ended the thrice-told tale in Butuan. Atty. Saul Hofileña Jr., author of the bestselling Under the Stacks and 15 other books on history and law, a Patnubay Awardee, a former law dean, pre-bar reviewer, and a law professor at San Beda University, joined the fray as counsel for the Limasawa 6.
Due to the lack of support from the NHCP, the hapless historians had to rely on their own resources to defend their case which led to Hofileña’s pro bono employment.
This is as curious as a case can be: Bonafide historians were criminally charged for researching on an event that happened more than 500 years ago. If the criminal case had succeeded, ignorance would have triumphed, and historians thereafter would be afraid to make known their findings because of the threat of prosecution.
We thank these men who left their ivory towers to defend the right of historians to do their work in peace.
Now our past can be safely told, and the character of our nation again examined — because of the stubborn tenacity of a few bookish men.
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