Tantingco: King Philip II's encounter with a Kapampangan in 1587
By Robby Tantingco
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
WE ALL know King Philip II as the king after whom the Philippines was named. He was a staunch and ruthless defender of Catholicism; at the height of the Spanish Inquisition against Protestants and heretics; when a condemned man begged him for mercy, Philip reportedly replied, "If my own son were found guilty like you, I would personally accompany him to be burned at the stake."
He married the Catholic Queen of England, Mary Tudor, and together they made an unsuccessful attempt to convert England back to Catholicism. He did succeed, however, in wiping out all Protestants from Spain.
In 1587, Spain was the world's greatest superpower and King Philip II was the most powerful monarch on Earth. Only dignitaries, ambassadors and court officials had access to him. It was only recently that Jesuit historians uncovered documents showing that a Filipino native actually walked into Philip's court and spoke to him -- in Spanish. It happened on Dec. 15, 1587. That Filipino was Martin Sancho. He was only 10 years old. And he was a Kapampangan.
Most of all, his encounter with the King probably changed the entire history of the Philippines.
At that time, the Philippines was the most distant colony of Spain. If you were a Spaniard and you wanted to go to the Philippines, you had to cross the Atlantic Ocean for seven months, make a stopover in Mexico to recuperate, and then cross another ocean, the Pacific, for another eight months --granted that you didn't die from sickness, pirate attack, hurricanes, hunger and thirst, and mutiny.
In those early years of colonization, only a handful of Spanish soldiers, clergymen and traders opted to settle in the distant colony.
Manila, at that time, was nothing more than a cluster of huts surrounded by jungles and swamps and suspicious islanders. Many of these early settlers, homesick and bored to death, were agitating to return to Spain.
On April 19, 1586, they held a meeting in Manila to debate the merits of maintaining the colony under these harsh conditions. In the end, they agreed to stay but to ask the King for better incentives. Their envoy would be the Spanish priest Alonso Sanchez, but their secret weapon was Martin Sancho, the frail, sickly 10-year-old from Pampanga.
Born in 1576, barely five years after the Spaniards first landed in Manila and Pampanga, Martin Sancho had delighted the missionaries by reciting the entire Catechism in Spanish. He was brought to Manila where he created quite a sensation among the Spaniards. They agreed to ship him all the way to Spain and present him before King Philip II himself, as proof that the natives in the new colony were capable of evangelization and could be worthy, even spectacular, vessels of European erudition.
More significantly, the child prodigy would be presented as the best argument to convince the monarch not to abandon the Philippines.
And so Fr. Alonso Sanchez and his protégé, Martin Sancho, left Manila in May 1586, aboard the ship San Martin. They reached Acapulco in January 1587. After a four-month stopover in Mexico, they sailed across the Atlantic and reached Spain in December 1587.
On December 15, barely a few days after arriving, the priest and the boy were ushered in at the court of King Philip II. Martin Sancho was introduced, and as the King and other dignitaries leaned forward, the 10-year-old Kapampangan with his tiny voice breathlessly recited prayers, articles of faith, Church doctrine and the rest of the Catholic Catechism in impeccable Spanish.
When he was ushered out of the hall amid thunderous applause, Fr. Alonso Sanchez stepped forward to present his case for the Philippines, confident that the King's favorable response had been secured by the boy's performance.
Today, Martin Sancho remains unknown and unrecognized. Were it not for his appearance in the court of Philip II, Spain would probably have left the Philippines in 1587, not 1899, and the whole canvas of Philippine colonial history would have been wiped out completely.
The Jesuits in the Philippines do acknowledge Martin Sancho as the first Filipino to enter the Society of Jesus (not as an ordained priest, though, because natives were not allowed to become priests in those days). After his sensational appearance in the royal court, the boy was no longer returned to his parents in the Philippines, but was raised by Fr. Alonso in Spain. When he was 17, he was taken to Rome to join the Jesuit novitiate.
Afterwards, he returned to Spain and lived in the province of Toledo, finishing college in Murcia. He traveled to Mexico in 1599. By this time, his health had been deteriorating because he had contracted tuberculosis in the poorly heated Jesuit house in Rome.
In 1601, he finally returned to the Philippines with a group of Jesuit missionaries headed by Gregorio Lopez, reuniting with his Kapampangan parents whom he had left when he was only 10. Tragically, he died one month later. He was only 25.
His story remained hidden for centuries until historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ unearthed it. Dr. Luciano Santiago wrote about it in his book Kapampangan Pioneers in the Philippine Church, published by the Holy Angel University four years ago.
Jose Rizal, Juan Luna, and the Propagandists impressed Madrid with their brilliance and patriotism in the 1800s, but the highest forum they could reach was the Spanish Cortes. Three hundred years before them, a 10-year-old Kapampangan came within spitting distance with the King of Spain himself, and even made the royal jaw drop.
But the amazing Martin Sancho, for all his talent and luck, was a sad, lonely boy who was plucked out of his parents' home and spirited away from his land of birth at the age of 10, and made to live among strangers in a strange, cold country. The fact that he graciously shed off his glory days and shook off his huge heartache, to become the first Filipino Jesuit, is what makes Martin Sancho truly great.
Note: This article is not originally from me but my purpose is to just share it.