LAST June 10, President Duterte said, “Five hundred years of Christianity? What’s so special about that?... Priests are asking, what’s the plan? We have no plans.”
On Sept. 6, the President continued his attack on the plan to celebrate 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, “Why would I throw a celebration for the arrival of Spanish? It marked the start of Filipino slavery. They killed Filipinos like Rizal and Bonifacio.”
How government has acted
Yet consider these official acts of government before the two publicized presidential rants over the “500” celebration were made:
 May 5, 2018: President Duterte issued Executive Order #55, series of 2018, (a) creating the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC) that will be the steering body to make a “comprehensive plan” of activities for the celebration and (b) funding it with an initial P10 million. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is its chairman and Rene Escalante, head of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, is vice chairman.
 Dec. 21, 2018: NQC officially launched its logo and website. Since then, the committee has been meeting every month for activities during the period from December 2019 to April 2021. NQC’s term won’t expire until September 2022.
 Sept. 13, 2019, Lapu-Lapu City created its own committee, LCQC, equivalent of the national body, with Mayor Junard Chan as the chairman.
What do these official acts of government, both national and local, tell us?
Did he forget EO 55?
The President must have forgotten he already signed EO 55, creating the NQC with his own alter ego, “the little president,” as chairman. Or he didn’t think that his open scorn of the event, after the creation of NQC and it was operating full-blast, would not affect official policy that he already laid down in writing.
Under Republic Act 10086, the government is bound to “strengthen people’s nationalism” and “promote and popularize the nation’s historical heritage and resources.” Celebrating “500” fits snugly into that.
Christianity not specified
While the President is right about the abuses of soldiers and friars and the exploitation of Filipino labor by the Spaniards, the “500” celebration, from the official government view expressed in EO 55, will help “promote tourism and enrich our culture and heritage.” At least, that’s what the EO that the President signed says.
What the government would be celebrating is specified in the order: (1) the arrival of Magellan, (2) the victory of Lapu-Lapu and (3) other historical events from 1519 to 1522. It didn’t mention the introduction of Christianity, probably it’s lumped under “other historical events.”
Whom to take cue from
But whom will local government officials take the cue from in preparing for the big event? Apparently, not the President. His anti-church stance and comments could be just personal, which didn’t affect official policy. They were not in writing and contradicted official acts made months and weeks before.
Or maybe he was just entertaining the audience, as his digs at bishops and priests have not failed to draw amusement or laughter.
If the President is serious, he still has time to reject and shelve the plans and leave the celebration to the Catholic Church. The NQC will submit its report at the end of the year yet.
He still has time
If Duterte’s public rebuke of the “500” celebration would translate into official policy, he could limit government role to just keeping peace and order and would skip the ceremonies and rituals.
President Duterte might reduce spending by cutting off expensive projects and plans and reducing participation by government agencies.
His ultimate rebuff would be not to show up at activities requiring the presence of the host country’s head of state. He could just send NQC chief Medialdea instead.
The agony is not yet over on the question--whether Duterte would follow his repudiation of the “500” with moves that might ruin the celebration. Or whether the festivity would just be as spirited and meaningful even without government help.