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Da Bathala Code

Part 3: Pedro Paterno’s Grand Illusion
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Pedro Paterno
Pedro Paterno, the originator of the Bathala-baybayin notion, in a photo from 1906

In this series of articles we have been talking about something I call the Bathala Code. This is the idea that the old Filipino writing system, called the baybayin, contains secret meanings hidden in the shapes of its characters – meanings beyond just the sounds that they represent. Even though there is no evidence to support this theory, a few people today are adopting it as the basis of what they call a “rediscovery” of ancient Filipino spirituality. The Bathala Code is not a new idea but, as we’ll see, it is by no means an ancient one, either.

As we saw last time, the sculptor and spiritualist Guillermo Tolentino invented more bogus meanings for baybayin letters than anyone else, back in 1937. He credited two other men for what he considered to be only minor contributions to his interpretations. One of them was his contemporary, Lope K. Santos, who was a highly respected writer and author of the first official grammar of the national language. Santos speculated on the word uha (cry of a newborn baby) as the basis for the shapes of the letters u (u), ha (ha) and a (a). However, neither Tolentino nor Santos could claim to have discovered the Bathala Code. They merely embellished the ideas of another pseudo-ethnographer from a generation before them ­– Pedro Paterno.

Pedro Paterno

Fifty years before Tolentino wrote his Ang Wika at Baybaying Tagalog, Pedro Paterno wrote La antigua civilización tagalog in 1887, 1 followed by several other books on Filipino ethnology. These were hardly a small influence on Tolentino’s far-fetched theories; they were probably some of his main inspirations, if not his virtual blueprint. Like Tolentino, Paterno tried to legitimize some really outrageous claims with questionable scholarship and outright fabrications, as we’ll see, but more than that, he himself played a prominent role during a crucial period of Philippine history. He is a fascinating character who deserves much more scrutiny than is possible in this series of articles. For more information about the infamous political career of Pedro Paterno, I recommend the book Brains of the Nation 2 by Resil Mojares.

Inventing a religion

Although Paterno was the originator of the Bathala-baybayin notion, it was not the main focus of La antigua civilización tagalog. Like many Filipino writers of his time, his aim was to show that Filipinos were capable of taking part in the governing their own country under Spanish rule. But unlike the other Propagandists, as they were called, Paterno was a conservative Catholic and an ardent supporter of the Spanish regime. He saw Christianity as the highest form of religion and Spain as the embodiment of the highest form of culture and civilization. Through his improbable analysis of history and language, he tried to prove that, even before Spain made first contact in the 1500s, the ancient Tagalogs were already “Spaniards at heart,” as the historian John Schumacher phrased it in his book The Making of a Nation. 3 What's more, they even practiced an organized religion that was practically Christianity but with another name. Paterno called this religion Tagalismo and Bathalismo, and it had everything from a creation myth very much like the Garden of Eden story to elements such as priests, bishops, Holy Communion, Confession, a Holy Trinity, a virgin birth and a prophet named Anac Hala who was the son of the creator Bathala.

To support his incredible claims, Paterno would ferret out obscure words, like bathala, and often break them down to their basic syllables and letters. He would make irrelevant comparisons and emphasize chance similarities of these elements with words, concepts and personalities from other civilizations around the world – just as Guillermo Tolentino would do half a century later. Resil Mojares showed throughout his essay how Paterno would freely distort facts and selectively mine his sources, ignoring anything that did not fit his theories.

And, of course, Paterno would also just “make up stuff.” While Tolentino had his baseless origin story for the baybayin script, Paterno had one for his Bathalismo religion. In Paterno’s story – which he said an “ancient Tagalog” had told him – a virgin named Daga was impregnated by a ray of sunlight. When her father discovered the pregnancy, he angrily wrote her name in the baybayin script and inserted the “male” letter la (la), changing her name to Dalaga and thus creating the Tagalog word meaning “young unmarried woman.” Dalaga gave birth to a son who began to perform miracles at the age of 12, thus founding the religion of Bathalismo. 4

The Bathala Code

The baybayin script was an integral part of Paterno’s grand illusion of Bathalismo. He said, “In this story or tradition of the word dalaga we see the foundation of Bathalismo.” 5 And it was also here in La antigua civilización tagalog that Paterno laid out the very premise of the Bathala Code:

The word baybayin comes from baibai or babai, or babae, which means female or generator, represented by the figure ba, an imitation of the external shape of the female genital organ, just as the character la corresponding to the Latin letter L, is a sign of lalaque (male) and is a drawing or copy of the male sexual organ. 6

In the Tagalog script, the H is written imitating the zigzag ray that, loosed from high Heaven, illuminates the dark Earth, thus: ha. 7

Now then; in the Old Tagalog writing of the name of God, ba ha la, it is observed that the first letter ba, symbolizing the Woman, and the third la symbolizing Man, are united by ha the light, spirit, symbol of God. 8

The signs ba laof female and male, united by ha, the symbol of light, form the name of God ba ha la (Bathala), which means Generator or Creator of all that exists in the Universe. 9

This is the ultimate source of the Bathala-baybayin connection, which believers claim is a link to the ancient wisdom of their distant pre-colonial ancestors – but it was all simply fabricated by Pedro Paterno in 1887.

Even from its beginnings we can see the inconsistencies of the theory emerging. Where Paterno saw a bolt of lightning in the letter ha (ha), Tolentino chose to see the wind. Even Paterno contradicted himself elsewhere in his book by saying that ha (ha) represented “the breath of life” and that la (la) was a variation of ra, which in the name Bathala, alluded to none other than Ra, the sun-god of ancient Egypt! It just goes to show that when fantasy replaces reason, we can see anything we want in random shapes and find mystical connections anywhere.

In the final part of our series on the Bathala Code, we’ll hear what some of Pedro Paterno’s contemporaries, like Jose Rizal, thought of his outlandish theories, and how Paterno defended them.

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Sources & notes

1. Paterno, Pedro A. La antigua civilización tagálog. 1887. Second edition as La antigua civilización de Filipinas, Manila, 1915.

2. Mojares, Resil B. Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the production of modern knowledge. Quezon City. Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006

3. Schumacher, John N. The Making of a Nation: essays on nineteenth-century Filipino nationalism. Quezon City, ADMU 1991. p. 107

4. Paterno, Pedro A. 1887 pp. 106 & 107

5. Ibid p. 107

En este cuento ó tradición de la palabra dalaga vemos la fundación del Bathalismo.

6. Ibid.  p. 259

La palabra baybayin viene de baibai, ó babai, ó babae, ... que significa hembra ó generadora, presentada por la figura ba imitación de la forma exterior del órgano genital feminino, así como el carácter lacorrespondiente á la letra latina L, es signo de lalaque (macho) ... y es dibujo ó copia del órgano sexual del varón.

7. Ibid p. 33

En la escritura tagálog, la H se escribe imitando el zic-zac del rayo que, desprendiéndose del alto Cielo, ilumina la oscuridad del la Tierra, así: ha

8. Ibid p. 34

Ahora bien;  en la antigua escritura tagala del nombre de Dios ba ha la se observa que la primera letra ba que simboliza á la Mujer, y la tercera lasimbolizando al Hombre, están unidas por ha luz, espíritu, símbolo de Dios.

9. Ibid p. 259

Los dos signos ba la de hembra y macho, unidos por ha símbolo de la luz, forma el nombre de Dios. ba ha la (Bathala) que significa Generador ó Creador de todo lo que existe en el Universo.

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