SAN Pedro Calungsod, the second Filipino Catholic saint, was a Bisayan who was born from what is now Baybay City in Leyte province.

Dr. Rolando Borrinaga, noted historian from Eastern Visayas, presented this theory following the pervading “problematic and in contention” records of the saint’s origin even after his canonization by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on October 21, 2012.

“I pursue the hypothesis that he came from Leyte, specifically from the town of Baybay. I shall use the ‘confrontational approach’ and the ‘cracks in the parchment curtain’ approach to assess the primary and secondary sources already published or available in the public domain,” he said.

Borrinaga dedicated his paper entitled "San Pedro Calungsod: The Bisayan Saint from Leyte" to the Diocese of Maasin, which has the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Baybay.

As the Diocese of Maasin will spearhead the next year’s commemoration of the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines, immortalized by the First Easter Sunday Mass celebrated by the Magellan expedition in Limasawa Island on March 31, 1521, Borrinaga also hoped that the Diocese “will do something about this claim” as part of commemorative activities.

“This is the first time I formally submitted a claim for Leyte,” Borrinaga told Sunstar Philippines.

Borrinaga, an esteemed historian who helped in the campaign for the return of the historic Balangiga Bells in December 2018, refuted the other claimants of the saint’s birthplace which include Ginatilan, Cebu; Hinunangan, Southern Leyte; and Loboc, Bohol.

“Others had submitted their claim years ago, even before the canonization,” he said.

Eventually, the late Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal fell back on the certain Bisayan origin of San Pedro Calungsod, according to the historian.

Borrinaga's theory was also presented during the Philippine National Historical Society’s 41st National Conference on Local and National History, Webinar Series 3 on November 28, 2020.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Maasin welcomed the study of Borrinaga.

“If our foremost historian could prove that St. Pedro Calungsod was from Baybay, Leyte, the Diocese of Maasin will rejoice beyond measure because St. Pedro Calungsod could be one of the greatest proximate fruits of the First Easter Mass in Limasawa, considering that Baybay as part of the territory of the Diocese of Maasin,” said Monsignor Oscar Cadayona in a report from Catholic news site Licas.news.

Confronting other studies

Borrinaga said that when he first read the interview transcript four years ago on the Bohol connection of the saint’s origin, he found it “rather ‘forced’ and entertained instead the thesis that Pedro Calungsod probably came from Baybay, Leyte, based on preponderance of leading data and my own personal observations in the area.”

In his paper, Borrinaga said that the first person to systematically research about the life of Pedro Calungsod was Fr. Josemaria Salutan Luengo, Ph.D., from Bohol.

“He was prodded to do so by Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of Cebu when they met during the Golden Anniversary Celebration of the creation of the Diocese of Tagbilaran on November 25, 1991. He was told, ‘Fr. Luengo, do research and write the life of Pedro Calungsod. You might find out that he was a Boholano!’’ the Leyte historian disclosed.

“The prodding had an experiential basis,” added Borrinaga, who is a full time professor at the School of Health Sciences, University of the Philippines Manila, in Palo town in Leyte.

Borrinaga narrated that a decade earlier, following the beatification of Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz by Pope John Paul II in Manila on February 18, 1981, Fr. Luengo had researched and written a biography of Blessed Lorenzo by making use of references, interviews and archival records.

“His manuscript, published as a book titled Lorenzo Ruiz, The Filipino Protomartyr in Nagasaki, apparently helped promote the cause of his subject, who would be canonized as the first Filipino saint on October 18, 1987.

“Fr. Luengo presumably meditated and prayed for inspiration after he accepted Cardinal Vidal’s challenge to write about the life of Pedro Calungsod,” Borrinaga said.

Borrinaga added: “The first step he took, perhaps after picking a random name in the telephone directory, was to conduct a telephone interview with Antonio Calungsod, a resident of Belleville, New Jersey, USA, whom he called up from his residence in Copiague, New York, on December 10, 1991.

“It turned out from the telephone interview that Antonio Calungsod came from Barangay Biasong in Baybay, Leyte; that he came from a family of musicians, who included an uncle who was the parish organist and brothers and sisters who were choir singers in the church.”

According to Borrinaga, the initial data would have been great leads to pursue the possibility that Pedro Calungsod came from Baybay, Leyte.

“Instead, Fr. Luengo chose to focus on the fact that Antonio’s wife came from Bohol and that the Calungsod ancestors used to visit their relatives in Bohol,” he said.

“These were the facts that he used to build up the thesis that Pedro Calungsod probably came from Loboc, Bohol, in consonance with Cardinal Vidal’s musing that the saint-candidate might be a Boholano,” added Borrinaga, who also became a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award in History and winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Translation.

Borrinaga’s discovery

In his study, Borrinaga said San Pedro Calungsod was born and baptized as Pedro Calonsor in Baybay, Leyte.

“A source gave the date 21 July 1654 for his birth, but this could have been earlier, just before the linguistic shift from ‘r’ to ‘d’ in many Bisayan words in the aftermath of the Sumoroy Rebellion in 1649-1650,” wrote Borrinaga, who previously served as Visayas Representative in the National Committee on Historical Research (NCHR) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and functioned as secretary of the NCHR Executive Council.

Pedro Calungsod was born in the aftermath of the Sumoroy Rebellion in 1649-1650, which was considered the first major insurrection to explode during the initial century of Hispanization and evangelization of the Philippine, according to Borrinaga.

“The rebellion started in the town of Palapag in northeastern Samar on the evening of June 1, 1649, when Agustin Sumoroy, the castellan of the Palapag Fort, plunged his spear through the heart of Fr. Miguel Ponce, the Rector of the Jesuit’s Palapag Residencia,” he narrated.

His personal experience, which led him to theorized on Calungsod’s origin in Baybay town brought him back in 1982, when he served as field supervisor of four medical students from the UP Manila School of Health Sciences (UPM-SHS) during six months of their community clerkship in Baybay, Leyte.

“Two of them rotated assignments in Barangay Biasong, two kms. southeast of the población to the interior, and there I learned that this was an ancient settlement where old families of the town had roots. During this period, I had also visited the Barangay Health Station in Barangay Punta, a small peninsula seven kms. southwest of the población. There I saw for the first time its ancient church with limestone walls, which façade reminded of the Palompon Church in western Leyte that I had seen a number of times in the past,” he said.

“In later years, when I had started to focus on local historical research, I forwarded the claim that this ‘chapel’ was in fact an old Jesuit church and that the ancient población of Baybay was in Barangay Punta. Baybay became a separate Jesuit mission station around 1620, and the Calonsor family (before they became Calungsod) must have served as its instrument musicians and choral singers during church service, especially during Sundays or when the priest was around,” Borrinaga added.

According to the historian, this is the supporting context for his theory that Pedro Calungsod was born to the Calonsor family in Baybay, Leyte around 1654 or even a bit earlier.

“He grew up in the deeply religious environment of his family, who presumably agreed for him to become a full-time stay-in sacristan of the Jesuit missionary assigned in their town when he came of age (e.g., at least 10 years),” wrote Borrinaga, who is a lifetime member of the Philippine National Historical Society (PNHS), where he is also a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of The Journal of History and has edited a number of recent issues of the journal.

Life of a saint

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Pedro Calungsod became a sacristan and most-trusted assistant of Fr. Diego Luis de San Vitores, SJ, the Spanish Jesuit missionary who established the Christian presence in the Ladrones Islands, which he renamed as Islas Marianas.

Both of them were martyred by native Chamorros on April 2, 1672.

Before the Marianas mission, the close affinity to each other between Fr. San Vitores and Calungsod was apparently cemented by a third party, Fr. Domingo Ezguerra, SJ, the Father Provincial of the Jesuit’s Philippine Province in 1666, according to Borrinaga.

“Fr. Ezguerra was a vice-provincial based at the Carigara Residencia in Leyte before his new position. He presumably brought along two sacristans for his needs when he moved to Manila to serve his term as Father Provincial.

“And one of them must have been Pedro Calungsod, a sacristan from Baybay pueblo which assigned Jesuit missionary had just died in December 1665,” wrote Borrinaga.

When Fr. San Vitores received the royal decree for the Marianas mission in 1666, Fr. Ezguerra presumably helped him plan, organize and recruit personnel for this new venture, according to Borrinaga.

“And he must have strongly recommended Calungsod as a trustworthy boy who could serve as sacristan and aide to Fr. San Vitores before he returned to Leyte after his term,” he added.

In 1981, the road to sainthood for Pedro Calungsod started.

This happened when the Catholic church in Agadña, Guam was preparing for their 20th anniversary as a diocese.

“The canonization of San Pedro Calungsod as the second Catholic saint from the Philippines culminated more than 20 years of efforts to elevate him to such revered status in the Catholic faith,” read Borrinaga’s study. (SunStar Philippines)