FILIPINO POTPOURRI

By Jesse T. Reyes

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – “Saude!”   (“Cheers!” in Portuguese)

 

Nearly 500 years after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” the Philippines, Filipino Ambassador to Portugal Philippe Jones Lhuillier observed that Manila and Lisbon “have forgotten each other.”

 

Lhuillier declared that he is keen on “reintroducing” the Philippines and Portugal to each other.

 

“We have forgotten each other from the time when Magellan came over in 1521 and especially when a lot of people think Magellan is a Spaniard rather than a Portuguese,” he noted.

 

There is a sign of progress, though:  Portugal, for one has made it easier for Filipinos to get Schengen visas.

 

(FYI:  The Schengen Area comprises the territories of twenty-six European nations that have implemented the Schengen Agreement signed in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg in 1985.  It operates a single international travel and immigration area with no border controls for people journeying between Schengen countries and only external frontier restraints for those traveling in and out of the area).

 

Incidentally, Portugal closed its embassy in the Philippines in 2011 as Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs affirmed.  Lhuillier remarked that Portugal did this because of financial problems as, in fact, it “closed several embassies around the world.”   He declared he has “been talking and talking” to Portugal to convince it to re-open its Manila embassy.  When asked how exactly he does this, Lhuillier answered, eliciting laughter:  “By being ‘makulit’ (persistent).”

 

“I always tell them that we could have better ties.  If we have an embassy there in Lisbon, they should have an embassy right here in Manila,” the Filipino ambassador explained while on a visit back home.

 

In a separate statement, he noted that the Philippines “could also serve as an ideal entry point or staging area for Portuguese businesses” into the Southeast Asian market.

 

While the Philippines, aided by the continued growth of the real-estate sector and other industries, enjoys the fruits of long, hard-earned economic policies championed by the previous and current administration over the last seven years, the rest of the world such as Portugal is looking to grow exponentially by using these same tools to pursue sizable investment in their respective economies.

 

Indeed, many wealthy Filipinos now stand to benefit from a program launched by Portugal to allow foreign nationals to obtain residence permits and own property and businesses.

 

Dubbed the “Golden Residence Permit” (GRP) program, it aims to help immigrants to legally own property as a residence or for business in Portugal.

 

Absolutely, it will help Filipinos legalize their stay and open more possibilities for their full growth in Portugal.  Five years of continuous eligibility in the program can lead to the acquisition of a permanent residence permit while six years can help the holder acquire a Portuguese citizenship.  The GRP program also allows the application for family reunification.

 

Portugal, the homeland of Magellan, is ironically far from being a popular destination for Filipinos traveling as immigrants or as plain tourists.  Although no reliable statistics are available, the number of Filipinos in this nation of 10.5 million people is still far below that of other European countries with significant Filipino communities like the United Kingdom (UK), Italy or Spain.

 

“Very few Asian immigrants here are Filipinos, although their number is steadily growing and the Portuguese-born second generation is already evident,” says in an article written by Dr. Tiago Gutierrez Marques, a Portuguese-Filipino born in Lisbon in 1980.

 

In world history, if you folks are not aware of it - Portugal was a global powerhouse in the 15th and 16th centuries, with an empire that stretched from Brazil to East Timor, but it’s presently one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.  Financial problems are making it an exporter rather than importer of manpower, thus driving thousands of natives away and discouraging many immigrants (including Filipinos) from coming.

 

But Portugal has many things in common with the Philippines.  It was under a dictatorship between 1932 and 1974, which isolated the country from the rest of the world.  When Portugal embraced democracy, the population was both poor and uneducated.  Joining the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1986 enabled the nation to narrow the gap separating it from the most developed countries of Europe.  It became one of the founding members of the euro-zone or countries that share the euro as common currency.

 

Portugal has always been a nation of emigrants and like the old homeland of ours – our beloved Philippines – it has global diaspora.  Most Portuguese immigrants are concentrated in Northern Europe, particularly France, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom as well as North America.  Portugal reversed that trend and became an attractive country for immigrants during the ‘90s and the early years of the 21st century, when its economy was growing and it received plenty of European funds to develop its infrastructures.

 

Suddenly Portugal has become a bit multicultural, too with workers arriving from the former Portuguese-speaking colonies in Africa, Brazil and from Eastern Europe.  Asian immigrants mostly from China are visible these days around the capital of Lisbon.  As Dr. Tiago Gutierrez Marques stated earlier above - very few Asian immigrants are Filipinos, although their number is steadily growing and the Portuguese-born second generation is already evident (the good doctor cited himself as an example).  There's now a Filipino-Portuguese Association.  Of course, the Lisbon-based Philippine Embassy is headed by Lhuillier.  Definitely, it is a far cry from the 80's when you could easily count the number of Filipinos in the area with just the fingers in your hands.

 

Now, going back home to the old country and trying to connect all the dots here – there is no doubt that the Filipino faithful still come to pray at the feet of Nuestra Senora de Guia (Our Lady of Guidance), perhaps the oldest documented Marian image in the Philippines.  In fact, it predates the arrival of Basque-Spanish navigator (and governor who established the first Spanish settlement in the East Indies) Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in Manila - on 1571.

 

This simple representation made of Philippine hardwood, “molave,” measures about 50 centimeters in height.  Buried under an embroidered skirt and chemise, it has a serene face and wears a wig of human hair.  The image is adorned with a crown presented by Pope Paul VI during his Manila visit in 1971 as well as jewels presented by Manila Archbishop Rufino L. Cardinal Santos.  Like the venerated symbol of Nuestra Senora de Paz y de Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) in Antipolo, the Virgin of Ermita is also invoked by travelers, especially those who seek visas in the nearby U.S. Embassy in Manila.

 

According to the late-seventeenth-century manuscript Anales Ecclesiasticos de Pilipinas, the image was found after the taking of Manila from the last and also regarded as great ruler Rajah Soliman.  After a hard and bloody battle, Legazpi entered the beautiful and magnificent city of Manila then on May 19, 1571, the feast day of Santa Potenciana.   Manila was then seen as the capital of the powerful and famous island of Luzon.  A soldier walking along the shores of Manila Bay (remember now, the American Embassy compound was reclaimed from the sea) found the miraculous image of Nuestra Senora de Guia among the center foliage of a “pandan” tree.  According to local lore, the natives diligently built a quaint wooden temple for the image, where it was transferred a little beyond the place where it was originally found.

 

Historians trying to establish the origin of this representation have come up with a theory that it was brought to the Philippines, together with the Santo Nino de Cebu, by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, and was given to the rulers of Manila as a present by the rulers of Cebu.  However, there is no recorded amity between pre-Spanish rulers of Cebu and Manila.  As a matter of fact, Legazpi took Manila with the help of Visayan warriors.  Soliman of Manila is quoted to have said that his people were different from the mercenary Visayans.  Therefore, the image cannot be traced back to Magellan.

 

Nationalist scholars maintain that the image carved from “molave” with distinct Oriental rather than Western features was made by pre-Spanish Filipinos (or perhaps a Chinese artisan) who venerated it as an idol, a “likha” (created work), a “diwata” (Filipino nymph or goddess of the forest), or perhaps an “anito” (spirits including household deities).  Yet, when the Virgin of Ermita is seen without her finery, she is definitely a Roman Catholic image of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.

 

The question is: Where did this image come from?  Why was it worshipped in what is now Ermita long before the Spaniards took possession of Manila?

 

A Portuguese historian in the 1970s informed his Filipino colleagues that the Ermita image in Manila resembles another “Nuestra Senora de Guia” in a church also called “La Hermita” overlooking Macao.  He added that the title “Nuestra Senora de Guia” is not Spanish but Portuguese in origin.

 

Was the image, in fact, brought to Manila by Portuguese missionaries before Legazpi arrived in 1571 and claimed the Philippines for the Spanish crown?  Why is there no historical record for the origins of the image?

 

To answer those questions we have to go back to a time described in Western history books as the “Age of Discovery” when Spain and Portugal were rivals in the exploration and “discovery” of Asia and lands unknown to them.  To settle brewing territorial disputes, the Spanish Pope Alexander VI, in 1498, cut the world in half like an orange by drawing an imaginary demarcation line north to south 100 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands.

 

Historians are still trying to explain what territorial rights the papal bull “Inter caetera” (Among many [works]) actually granted Spain and Portugal, but what is often forgotten in our classroom history is that the Philippines lay on the Portuguese side of the world.  When Legazpi claimed the archipelago for Spain in 1571, the Portuguese challenged the assumption and invoked this invisible demarcation line.

 

The Virgin of Ermita, Nuestra Senora de Guia, could be more than a venerated holy image if it is accepted as a marker of the Portuguese claim on the Philippines.

 

(How and why the Philippines remained under Spain for close to four centuries afterwards is another story for another edition at some time in the near future).

 

Indeed, our knowledge of the presence of Portugal in the Philippines is very limited.  We only know of the fact that it was Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan who “discovered” the Philippines.  But yet, this is not so, as evidenced by what some historians and researchers have found out.

 

We know that Ferdinand Magellan landed of Cebu Island on March 16, 1521.  We are also certain that his expedition was responsible for the first wave of Christianity in the Philippines.  And of course, we are never oblivious of this Portuguese navigator’s death at the hands of the first Filipino patriot/hero Lapu-Lapu in the unforgettable Battle of Mactan.

 

There are various narrations of his remarkable expedition as recorded by Magellan’s official chronicler Antonio Pigafetta that are less known to most Filipinos.

 

Since the late nineteenth-century however, particularly in the past recent decades, Filipino students and historians have expressed intellectual “unease,” if not open resistance to a narrative that dates the beginning of our old homeland’s history with the coming of the Europeans…a story that privileges what Europeans did instead of what the Filipinos did themselves, or had done.

 

Though this narrative has remained dominant up to the present, historians have been continuously scrutinizing the accuracy of Pigafetta’s report.  As a matter of fact, its tone and exaggerations were deemed questionable.

 

Professor de Sousa, a historian in the Department of History of the Faculty of Letters at the University of Porto whose specialization is History of Colonialism averred that “discovery” is a dangerous word.  Rather, he believes in the idea of finding and the concepts of identification are two distinct topics all together.

 

Today, it does seemed we can no longer write or say that Magellan discovered the Philippines without putting the word “discover” in quotation marks.  Likewise without qualifying the discourse of discovery by saying other peoples (including Portuguese) had in fact been in these islands before 1521.  The good professor, too, acknowledged that the Portuguese and Spanish were not the first to discover Southeast Asia, in general and the Philippines, in particular.

 

Professor de Sousa raised some questionable passages in Pigafetta’s journal that were written beyond the context of the historical account.  He also mentioned about Pigafetta’s intention in writing the book.  But this is another topic entirely and we digress, so to speak.

 

So, moving on forward - I concur with Professor de Sousa and also say that the chronicles, memoirs, documents and maps of the Portuguese presence in Asia also pay particular attention to the travels of another Portuguese by the name of Francisco de Castro.  Since 1538, de Castro broadened geographical knowledge of the region and intensified political and trade relations with the support of the dynamic governance of the Moluccas.

 

He also mentioned that in the case of Southeast Asia, the main peripheral area of Portuguese maritime commercial circulation was the archipelago of the Philippines.  The country’s southernmost islands around Mindanao were explored, visited and used with economic objectives by the Portuguese commercial navigators on a regular basis during their voyages to the city of Molucca.

 

No doubts about it that from the Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal and Filipino politician Pedro Paterno in the nineteenth century to late twentieth century historians like Teodoro Agoncillo and Zeus Salazar, there has been the efforts to reconstruct a Philippine history that is much “longer” and more “autonomous” than one began with Magellan’s coming.  He added that these efforts at historical revision are a needed corrective to colonial historians, and that we do need to conceive of Philippine history as broader than the one that is framed by the discourse of discovery and colonialism.

 

This impressive information to make known Portugal’s contribution to the early modern history of the Philippines was even more surprising because of the connection between the Philippines and Brazil.  In the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, Portugal gave up claims to the Philippines in exchange for Spanish recognition of Portuguese rights to Brazil.

 

“It may be said that this has very little to do about treaties and debates about international rights in which we were pawns rather than participants.  But to say this is rather impertinent.  Such treatise and notions of international rights were not only important to Filipino intellectuals.  It became a subject to be interrogated and contested and, in that process, a modern nationalism was formed in the Philippines.  Such debates over the rights of nations remain relevant today,” writes one historian.

 

Now fast forwarding to the present - the Portuguese economy registered the growth of 2.8 percent in the first quarter of this year over the same period last year.

 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its projections for the Portuguese economic growth from the previous 1.1 percent to 1.7 percent this year, slightly below the government forecast of 1.8 percent.  I figure this just shows that “the Portuguese confidence was not unfounded” and that the combination of policies “is adequate.”

 

“What the data has consistently demonstrated since mid-2006 is that the cycle of economic downturn has been reversed and has had a sustained growth” the Portuguese Prime Minister reiterated.

 

“Portugal can truly be entry point of Filipino investors to European Union countries,” Filipino Ambassador Lhuillier informed news reporters.

 

So far, two Filipino investors have invested in Lisbon, a clothing company and another involved in the shipping industry, Lhuillier revealed.

 

The Philippine embassy in Lisbon assisted three other Filipino companies that were exploring investment opportunities in the areas of information technology (IT), infrastructure and manufacturing in Portugal.

 

Currently, some 2,500 Filipinos live and work in Portugal.

 

Filipinos living in Portugal particularly in the Lisbon metropolitan area say that it is quite congenial in Portugal despite the current economic woes.  Surely it has a laid-back culture and lifestyle that many Filipinos can identify them with.  Moreover, it has reasonably good weather all year round, with very warm summers and mild winters.  Portuguese is now among the ten most spoken languages in the world, so mastery of Portuguese may open up good opportunities in Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa – all emerging markets!

 

With its friendly population, long coastline, attractive beaches, delicious cuisine (there is a famous Filipino chef, Rene Sandoval in Southern Portugal) and diverse geography, Portugal attracts millions of tourists every year, making tourism a key asset of the economy.

 

With its unique riverside setting and cosmopolitan buzz, Lisbon is one of the most exciting cities in Europe to visit today.  The city tends to exceed a first-time visitor’s expectations because it remains overlooked in favor of other European capitals that are far pricier and over-hyped.

 

“The Philippines is the fastest-growing immigration market here in Southwest Asia.  If we could do 50 to 60 applications from the Philippines each year, we will be very happy,” the managing director and the Portuguese head of Southeast Asia operations admitted.  “We’ve had a lot of clients from the Philippines who have now made significant investments to acquire citizenship in Portugal.  Real-estate investment is very strong in Portugal among wealthy Filipinos and those from Southeast Asia.  In fact, of the 3,000 applicants we’ve had in Portugal from this region, 95 percent came through real-estate investments,” he added.

 

And with the seemingly impressive permanent atmosphere of optimism and confidence in the Philippines and with the good prospects of the old homeland as the new “Asian tiger” – Portuguese and Filipinos should definitely look up to each other for some inspirational relationships to help each one go through some of their darkest moments in recent history and achieve complete economic recovery and eventual triumph as two of the world’s most progressive countries.

 

So, come join our “kababayans” (fellow country folks) in Portugal!

 

Indeed, Portugal boats of an excellent reputation with a very high Human Development Index ranking, and is considered one of the world’s most globalized nations with a great quality of life.  A full member of the European Union, it is among the oldest countries in Europe with a rich history, a lively culture, stunning sunny beaches and beautiful countryside … I would say, too - just like our beloved old homeland – the Philippines!

 

I have no doubt that Portugal has many attributes that can absolutely entice many Filipinos to come and visit and maybe even settle down.

 

“Deus Abencoe Portugal!”   (God bless Portugal!)

 

“Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!”  (Long live the Philippines!)

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