This beautiful town was where “Relacion de Costumbrez” and “Diccionario Tagalog-Hispano” was written. Literatures that are often neglected, barely studied in our history lessons. 1578 is when Nagcarlan was introduced to the great Franciscano Padre Juan de Plasencia. Here he wrote the extraordinary book “Relacion de las Costumbres” with a dedication that reads, “Relacion de las costumbres que los indios solan tener en estas islas, hecha por Fray Juan de Plasenccia, de la Orden de San Francisco, y enviada a el doctor Santiago de Vera, presidente de la real audencia que reside en estas islas, Nagcarlang, 24 de octubre, 1589”. It was Santiago de Vera who sought Placencia’s help inquiring for, “information in regards to social & political organization of the Tagalo Indians”. Since Fray Plasencia strongly opposed the abuses of the Encomenderos, he thought it valuable to write about the Tagalog’s way of life so Spanish administrators will learn how to deal with them more humanely. It was because of his book that the basic sturcture of the “Barangay” was maintained. Although a central power exist in the state capital Manila, the “Barangay” was not entirely dissolved, in reality its administrative efficiency was greatly enhanced. Cabeza’s that were appointed are the noble Tagalogs – the respected leaders of the Barangay, they were respected even by the Friars, all their rights were preserved. Because of Christian teaching is in disagreement with the existing slaves system and Pagan practice, these are the ones that was removed by the Catholic administrators.
He was a known supporter of Bishop Salazar and stood with him during the first synod, where they strongly voiced their opposition against the abuses of some encomenderos. He was a firm believer in language inculturation. Considered as one of the first books that was ever made in the islas, Relacion de las Costumbres is without a doubt our first “civil code”. Here the Franciscan ethnographer gave details on the Tagalog’s way of justice, marriages, property and slavery. He provided the Spanish administrators with the concept of “barangay” and its social classes. It was because of his books (often copied, cited & quoted by famous historians like Blair and Robertson, de Tavera, A Morga) that we now understand how life was in the barangay, for without Placencia’s written record, it is doubtful if we would be able to appreciate the “balangay” as we do today.
Placencia mastered tagalog without books and formal lessons, he was firstly aided by a fellow Franciscan but learned it in short time that he was already on foot visiting settlements with Fray Oropesa a few months after arriving in the islands. He became so successful in converting natives he was voted as “custos” until he was replaced by another Spanish Franciscan, Pedro Bautista, who later became the martyr saint. His works in Arte and Vocabulario also intended for effective evangelazation. Other titles that are credited to the Franciscan are “Collecion de Frases Tagala” and “Diccionario Tagalog” (no copies of these two books exist today).
Contrary to what is taught in schools, that the reason why Spanish was not taught was to keep the “yndios” uneducated, printed history points to the reason why. Men like Placencia found it more potent to minister using the native language, “great spiritual fruit” are reaped from these labors a Spanish historian said. It was faster for them to learn native languages than make the natives learn Spanish – the strewn communities and small clans presented them with this unique condition. Filipinas they found out is not Mexico! Placencia made it clear his instruction when delivering the teachings of the church, “not to divert it from its original meaning and pronunciation in order that it would come out better understood by the natives”. History has exposed to us that because of this approach evangelazation was accelerated in all the islands, making the religion the first unifying character of what would be the “Filipino”.
In 1581, Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana was completed by Placencia. La Llave, the Franciscan’s biographer wrote, “he composed the Doctrina christiana in their language, and the Catecismo of the faith, which were entitled Togsohan (sic); and during the Provincial Synod called by the first bishop (Salazar) with the prelates of the religious and ministers, it was approved. Until at present, it is still being used but already with some modifications”. Placencia’s “Togsohan”, which means “playful teasing” was a question and answer done in recited songs, Fr. Gutay in his essay, “in which one party asks a question to be anwered by the other party, the questioning and answering roles being given reversed alternately after the correct answer has been given. It has a become a practice for the friars to apply some group dynamics like this to make the learning process more pleasant and attractive to the children”.
Filipino today know more about the Franciscan Damaso than Franciscan Placencia, which is unfortunate for without Placencia’s work we would have an unfilled gap in our memory of how our ancestors lived. Some historians prefer to rid Filipino history of such influence and contributions, which in my view is a denial of our heritage and our history, first as Christians and Filipinos. We should never confuse nationalism with such edenic principles.
“Ecclesiam Dei illius morte magnam incurruisse jacturam, quia cecidit columna Christianitas” – Bishop Salazar, eulogy for Fray Placencia.