LEGAL CHARGES. Local historian Potenciano R. Malvar (left) and his counsel Atty. Jose Batungbacal, Jr. announced in a press conference Thursday (March 18, 2021) in Butuan City the filing of a criminal complaint against the panel members tasked to conduct queries and recommendations to determine the site of the first Catholic Mass in the Philippines. Malvar alleges that the government-created panel made libelous claims and falsifications in their official report. (PNA photo by Alexander Lopez)

BUTUAN CITY – The quest to recognize this city as the site of the first Catholic mass in the Philippines has taken another turn after a criminal complaint was filed against the members of a panel tasked to determine the site of the historic religious rite marking the start of Christianization in the country.

 In a resolution issued in July last year, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) sustained previous conclusions indicating that the first Catholic mass was celebrated during Easter Sunday in 1521 in Limasawa Island in Southern Leyte.

The NHCP decision was based on recommendations made by an investigating panel led by Dr. Resil B. Mojares, whose group was formed through President Rodrigo Duterte's Executive Order No. 55 in May 2018.

The other members of the Mojares Panel include Dr. Danilo M. Gerona, Dr. Francis M. Navarro, Dr. Carlos Madrid Alvares-Piñer, Fr. Antonio Francisco B. De Castro, and Dr. Jose Victor Z. Torres.

On Thursday, however, local historian Potenciano R. Malvar filed a criminal complaint against the Mojares Panel for violations of Articles 355, 171, and 172 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) alleging libel and falsifications by public officers and private individuals.

The Office of the City Prosecutor officially received the complaint on the same day, and respondents have yet to receive copies of the complaint as of this writing.

Aside from all the panel members, Dr. Rolando O. Borringa, whom Malvar identified as adviser and resource person of the group, was also named respondent in the case.

Extensive study

Malvar, a local historian, is a long-time advocate for the recognition of Butuan as the place where the first Catholic mass was celebrated in 1521.

“For years, I have made extensive research not only here in the Philippines but also abroad, including Spain and Portugal, and made researches and studies on the life and travels of Ferdinand Magellan,” Malvar said in a press conference at the Balanghai Hotel here Thursday afternoon.

He recalled that Mojares' group is the third panel the government created to resolve the controversies on the first Catholic mass site; the first was the panel led by Supreme Court Justice Emilio Gancayco in 1995 and that of Dr. Benito Legarda Jr. in 2008.

“All the three panels concluded that Limasawa was the site of the first mass, but the Legarda panel’s report was not conclusive as it encouraged local historians and scholars in Butuan to continue and expand the historical studies to further strengthen their claim,” Malvar said.

In preparation for this year's 500th anniversary of Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the world and his first contact with Filipinos in 1521, the government has been preparing for the historic milestone since 2018.

Malvar said the Mojares Panel issued a call in September 2018 for the submission of position papers for the claim of the first mass held in Butuan.

“I formally submitted a position paper entitled "Pigafetta’s 9° 2/3N Hidden Facts" during the panel’s first meeting in Cebu City on December 12 to 13, 2018,” Malvar said.

He said the position paper was anchored on Antonio Pigafetta and Francisco Albo's accounts on the life and voyages of Magellan.

“Included on the paper was the result of my extensive research during my travels to the birthplace of Magellan in Sabrosa, Portugal; in Vicenza and Milan in Italy and in Boston and Yale Libraries in the US where I obtained the Italian and French versions of the Pigafetta manuscripts,” Malvar said.

The same paper was also discussed before its formal submission, particularly on November 9, 2018, during a focused group discussion by the NHCP and the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Butuan City, he added.

“My years of research and gathering of evidence made possible the completion of my position paper pointing to the undisputed fact that the first Easter Sunday mass was celebrated in Magallanes, Butuan,” Malvar said.

COMPLAINT RECEIVED. Photo shows the Investigation Data Form by the prosecutor’s office in Butuan City, issued after filing the criminal complaint on Thursday (March 18, 2021) against a government panel formed to determine the first Catholic mass in the Philippines. The complainant, local historian Potenciano R. Malvar, accused the panel members of libel and falsifications. (PNA photo by Alexander Lopez)

Libelous, falsified

In his complaint, Malvar alleged that the Mojares Panel's conclusions in its report caused dishonor and discredit to his person and in his reputation and years of extensive research and study on the actual site where the first mass was celebrated in the country.

Malvar received the copy of the panel’s 72-page report in May last year, indicating that his position paper was “based on conjectures from ideas derived secondary sources including a fictional account of Magellan expedition”.

In his complaint, a copy of which was obtained by Philippine News Agency Friday, Malvar said the Mojares Panel “maliciously concluded, without any explanation and basis that my presentation or position paper was based on conjectures and fictional account”. 

He also alleged that the panel members, being commissioned by the government, “made several alterations” when it adopted as a whole the presentation made by Respondent Borrinaga.

Among the contentions made by Malvar was on the claim of Borrinaga that was taken on by the panel that stated: “the three islands seen by Pigafetta from Saub Points and these three islands are believed to be those of Camiguin, Bohol and Surigao area of Caraga.”

“In all my readings of the translations made by Robertson and Skelton of the Pigafetta manuscripts, there was never any mention of ‘three islands’ as falsely claimed by Dr. Borrinaga and the Mojares Panel in the subject report,” Malvar stipulated in the complaint.

He further alleged that the panel members made untruthful statements when it claimed that they inspected the sites where the proponents said the first mass was held in Magallanes, Agusan del Norte.

Malvar attached in the complaint a certification issued by the chief executive of Magallanes town saying that no member of the Mojares Panel visited the area.

Malvar is also asking for PHP20 million in moral damages. (PNA)