Spratly’s and the Sto. Niño | Inquirer News

Spratly’s and the Sto. Niño

/ 08:35 AM October 03, 2011

A Thousand Islands” sounds like a campaign that the Department of Tourism needs to boost the country’s tourism industry but while the drive alludes to our archipelago of at least 7,000 islands, the one thousand little dots as they appear on the Philippine map might just be the places that would speed up the country’s rural development and, who knows, enable our government find a creative solution to the thorny sovereignty issue over the Spratlys islands.

The one thousand islands refer to the areas that will be visited by the Sto. Niño de Cebu under the program called, “Duaw Santo Niño.”  The project was drawn up by the Order of St. Augustine (OSA) through the Sto. Niño de Cebu Augustinian Social Development Foundation (SNAF for short), the social implementing arm of the Augustinian Province of Santo Niño de Cebu-Philippines.

The concept aims to bring the image of the Holy Child to the islands, where many devotees live but don’t have the resources to visit the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño in Cebu City. The basilica is run by the OSA, keeper of the oldest icon in the Philippines.


Four years from now, the congregation will celebrate the 450th year of the arrival of the Augustinians and the rediscovery of Holy Child in this central island.  In the OSA perspective, this twin events mark the formal Christianization of the Philippines. We normally refer to 1521 (the rediscovery of the Philippines by Magellan) as the arrival of Christianity in Asia but following the OSA viewpoint, the formal structure began in 1565, when the first Augustinian missionaries led by the friar and navigator Andres de Urdaneta arrived in Cebu.


Thus, in the run up to 2015, the congregation is intensifying the Duaw Santo Niño.  The center of activity is a sea procession, which, minus the cooperation of the civil government would be hard to mount.  However, the support of local government units, the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard has always been better than expected as indicated by previous successful duaws to Danajon Reef, a cluster of 40 islets in Bohol, and Olango in Mactan, which is home to a bird sanctuary.

Apart from deepening the faith of the people, the program also seeks to educate and awaken them to their civic duties in caring for the environment.  The religious-lay organization SNAF instruct people in remote islands through symposia held during the visit of the Sto. Niño.  Cleaning up of coastal areas, planting of mangroves, etc. highlight the civic side of the program, aided by the local government unit and private institutions like the so-called Sea Knights, a.k.a. Scubasureros. Neo-evangelization is at the core of the Duaw Sto. Niño, foundation chairman Fr. Tito Soquiño said.

The program is very interesting because the image of the Holy Child has been conferred the title Lord Admiral of the Sea.  Fr. Soquiño said it was the Spanish sovereign who granted the title to the icon when Magellan embarked on an expedition in search of the Spice Islands in 1521.  As we know, the Portuguese instead found Cebu and planted the cross to symbolize that Christ has come to the islands.

After the conference, I asked Fr. Tito if it is possible to make the Spratly Islands parte de las mil islas to be visited by the Sto Nino. Put it another way, how about neo- evangelization as a solution to the Spratlys issue?

“Why not?” Fr. Soquiño replied with a wink.  “We should remember that God is the Lord of Creation, and when He goes there in the image of the Sto. Niño, he is simply asserting his sovereignty over the territory.  His dominion goes beyond political boundaries,” the priest declared.

Next stop for the Sto. Niño will be the Diocese of Naval in Biliran Island headed by Bishop Filomeno Bactol, whose jurisdiction extends over the coastal town of Calubian, Leyte.  People of Leyte used to refer to Calubian as a place in the backwoods but with the construction of the shrine in honor of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the once sleepy town has become a local tourist attraction.


The shrine will be celebrating its fiesta this Oct. 22 and as a media volunteer for the lay association that tends the beautiful sanctuary, I have quite a full schedule within the next two weeks.  I wish to thank fellow media workers in print and broadcast for attending last week’s press conference. We are privileged to be in the middle of this blessed undertaking.

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TAGS: Christianity, Religion, Santo Niño, Tourism

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