IS IT possible that one of the most reviled characters in Philippine history-the Macabebe Soldier, the Spaniards' loyal companion in their disgraces and their glories, and source of all the contempt and ridicule heaped upon all Kapampangans-can actually achieve the ultimate vindication and recognition by becoming... a saint??
Yes, it's possible and is, in fact, about to happen.
The parishioners of Macabebe town are now promoting the cause of beatification of Felipe Sonsong, a full-blooded Kapampangan who fought in the Kapampangan Revolt of 1660, then served in the Spanish army and helped put down the Chinese uprising in 1662, before becoming a Jesuit lay missionary to the Marianas (now Guam).
Like St. Francis of Assisi, he gave up his family and worldly possessions to live a life of total poverty and self-denial. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, his thoughts, words and deeds were recorded for posterity, in his case by Fr. Lorenzo Bustillo, SJ, who was part of the mission to Marianas.
In fact, Sonsong was second only to Jose Rizal as the most documented Filipino in the entire Spanish colonial period. There is more historical data about Sonsong than Lorenzo Ruiz, who is now a saint, or Pedro Calungsod, who is now a blessed (one step below sainthood). This should make it easier to put Felipe Sonsong on the road to sainthood.
Calungsod was in fact with Sonsong in the same mission to Marianas, along with their team leader, Fr. Diego Luis de Sanvitores, also recently declared a blessed. And it was actually Sonsong who had a reputation for holiness when he was still alive.
Because "he died with the reputation of a saint," wrote Bustillo, it was the Spanish Governor of Marianas himself, accompanied by ranking Spanish military officers, who carried his coffin to the grave.
Sonsong was "in every respect an angel in a mortal body," Fr. Bustillo wrote his Jesuit superiors in Rome when Sonsong died in 1686. "Everyone revered him as a saint."
Sanvitores and Calungsod died as martyrs in 1672. In 1684, or 12 years later, it was Sonsong who was attacked by the same Chamorro tribesmen, but he died from his wounds only six months later-which is why the proponents of his beatification will have to make a case for delayed martyrdom. Otherwise, it will be a longer route to sainthood because non-martyrs are required to perform miracles as proof that they're in heaven and therefore deserve to be called saints.
I hope Kapampangans-who are among the most pious people on these islands-would also have a saint of their own, now that Tagalogs have Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Cebuanos have Blessed Pedro Calungsod.
And I hope it would be Felipe Sonsong. If he indeed becomes a saint, he would truly be an interesting saint of the Catholic Church, because of his race (Kapampangan), his age (75 when he died), and his life story (a Macabebe soldier turned missionary).
Felipe Sonsong was born in 1611 to a prominent family of politicians and soldiers in Macabebe.
His father Ramon Sonsong was a two-term mayor (gobernadorcillo) of the town; his brother Agustin was a ranking officer of the Spanish army (maestre de campo, the highest military position a native could aspire for) and also a two-term mayor; and his nephew Agustin Jr. was a sargento mayor in the Spanish army who joined the failed Kapampangan Revolt.
Felipe Sonsong's own son, Jeronimo, became the longest-serving mayor of Macabebe-he was reelected 10 times! (That's a record even Mayor Boking Morales will envy.)
Felipe chose to be a farmer rather than become a politician or military man like most members of the Sonsong clan, because he wanted to show he could support his wife and son on his own, and also because he had an intense devotion to San Isidro, patron saint of farmers.
The vandala system (compulsory sale of rice harvests to the colonial government at very low prices) that the Spaniards imposed on farmers hit Felipe Sonsong hard. This was followed by the conscription, where Kapampangan men, farmers like Sonsong included, were herded off to the forests to cut timber for the Cavite shipyards, causing crop failure and famine in Pampanga.
These Kapampangan farmers-turned-woodcutters started the Kapampangan Revolt of 1660. The Sonsongs were among the leaders, with Felipe's nephew Agustin Jr. serving as Francisco Maniago's emissary to Pangasinan and Ilocos-two provinces that also wanted to join the rebellion.
Felipe Sonsong himself, already 50 at the time but still an excellent arquebus (rifle) shooter, joined the revolt. (It was his skill with the arquebus that he would also use later in the Marianas when Chamorros attacked their mission.)
All the leaders of the Kapampangan Revolt were arrested and executed-all, that is, except the Sonsongs (probably because Spain was still grateful to Agustin Sr. for his long and distinguished military service, or maybe because the family paid ransom money).
Felipe Sonsong was absorbed into the Spanish army, which could use his skill with the arquebus. In 1662, he participated in the campaign against a Chinese uprising in Manila (the panicky Spaniards had feared an invasion by the Chinese pirate Koxinga, which never materialized).
To the devil's advocate in the cause for beatification who is expected to question Sonsong's participation in wars and revolts, we can argue that he was merely obeying orders from his colonial masters (in the case of the Chinese uprising), merely trying to end a grave injustice (in the case of the Kapampangan Revolt), and merely defending his and his companions' lives (in the case of the Chamorro attacks).
Shortly afterward, when Sonsong was 56 years old, his wife died. His only son fully grown by then (Jeronimo would serve his first of 10 terms as mayor of Macabebe four years later), Sonsong left behind everything he had to his son and joined the religious orders.
Thus began this Macabebe soldier's journey on the long and narrow path to sainthood. (More next week)