Baybayin & Bathala

This is a guest post from Paul Morrow, author of Ang Baybayin. Interested in writing for More info here

Last summer I wrote a series of articles about the supposed spiritual meanings of baybayin letter shapes. Recently one of the advocates of this idea, Perla Daly, posted criticisms of the article. I tried to answer the invitation on her blog for “well thought-out responses,” but I have not been able to post my response. I do not believe I am being blocked; it is most like just a technical problem. I asked Christian if he would mind if I posted here at and he kindly agreed.

First of all, none of Perla Daly’s comments challenged the evidence I presented in the articles and generally she dismisses evidence-based arguments as being narrow and incomplete. Instead of refuting what I wrote, Daly chose to cast aspersions on me personally and dismiss me as merely an ignorant Westerner who is not only mocking her theory but all Filipinos and their beliefs. I can only assume this is a tactic that she hopes will bring others to her side through a sense of obligation to their Filipino heritage or through a sense of guilt for their Western heritage. I hope that assumption is wrong.

Now some specifics:

• The title of the blog in question is: “Sikolohiyang Pilipino, the Baybayin of Bahala, and a Westerner’s Mockery of Filipino beliefs and subjectivism.”

From the very start, Perla Daly’s title sets the stage for an “us-against-them” situation, the subtext being, “Look everybody! He’s mocking us! We must defend our honour, etc.

Did I mock Filipino beliefs? No. I refuted the theory of the Bathala/baybayin connection. This is not and never was a real part of any Filipino belief system, as much as Perla Daly would like it to be. I did not mock Filipino beliefs, though Perla Daly seems to think that her beliefs are those of all Filipinos.

As for subjectivism, that is fine for psychology, philosophy or religion. We can believe there are spiritual concepts in baybayin letter shapes if we want to, but if we make the claim that other people long ago believed the same thing, then we’re getting into history and for that we need evidence.

The fact is Pedro Paterno invented the baybayin/bathala idea in 1884. If it were really part of the belief system of Filipinos before that, somebody would have mentioned it in the preceding 300 years of documented Philippine history.

Another fact is that Bathala was only a deity for the Tagalogs and the Zambals; not for all the people of what we now call the Philippines. I may not understand “the metaphysical aspects of being Filipino,” as Daly claims, but then, her Bathala/bahala/baybayin theory doesn’t really apply to all Filipinos.

These facts stand even if I am, to use Daly’s condescending generalization, a Westerner who “cannot comprehend wholly Filipinos’ philosophy.”

• Daly commented on my title choice, “Da Bathala Code” as follows: “The play between Filipinos’ accents of ‘the’ and the title of the controversial Dan Brown novel is not lost on us as part mockery, part tongue-in-cheek.”

Yes, my title is tongue-in-cheek but it is not a mockery. There are plenty of examples of Filipinos using “Da” in titles (Da Buzz, Da Cocoanut Nut, etc.). I think the only readers who would see mockery in that title would probably already have a preconceived opinion of me being an ignorant and arrogant white man. There is nothing I can do about that. I could have written a much more serious or pretentious title, but I want the general public to actually read the article.

I think the allusion to Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” is appropriate for Paterno’s Bathalismo. Again, this does not mock the real beliefs of Filipinos past or present.

• One of Daly’s comments on her own blog post said that I was “belittling various Filipino historical figures and national artist Tolentino.” (More of the “us-against-them” tactic.)

How did I belittle these figures? Guillermo Tolentino was a National Artist for Sculpture. In that area, he cannot be belittled. I criticized his ideas on history and the baybayin, and I was not the first. Ambeth Ocampo, the Director of the National Historical Institute, no less, has had a few chuckles at Tolentino’s expense. Google his article about “Tolentino and the Calatagan Pot.” When it comes to Philippine history, I will believe a real Filipino historian over a sculptor who talked to ghosts, any day.

Daly claimed that I was “making a determination or a judgement on Filipino ways of being that [I] totally [have] no understanding of” because I did not take Tolentino’s paranormal interests seriously. Here again, Daly is painting all Filipinos with the same brush. For me to make a judgment on all Filipinos like that, I would have to make the same gross assumption that Daly has made – that all Filipinos believe in the paranormal.

As for Pedro Paterno, he is one of the most ridiculed figures in Philippine history. Read “Brains of the Nation” by the Filipino historian Resil Mojares. He strives to be fair to Paterno but there is no getting around the fact that even Paterno’s contemporaries, including Jose Rizal, thought he was an embarrassment and his ethnographies utter nonsense. Paterno’s theories were also Tagalog-centric. He wanted a glorious past for the Philippines that would glorify himself. He claimed to be of Tagalog nobility yet he negotiated the Pact of Biyak na Bato on behalf of the Spanish government so that he could demand a Spanish title of no less than Duke and a Grandee of Spain with a seat in the Spanish Senate. He was a traitor who was criticized by a lot of Filipinos before I ever wrote about him.

• Daly said that “no one, including Filipinos, cannot post their feedback whether neutral, positive or negative” on my web article.

This is deliberately misleading. If Daly had looked for a comment box, she must have seen the “feedback” link, which is on all my articles at Anyone can click on that link and have a dialogue with me personally, but I suspect that is not what Daly wanted to do. We do not have public comment boxes on our website because, more often than not, they are used for anonymous attacks and ranting.

• Conclusion

I appreciate Perla Daly’s desire, and the desire of all Filipinos, to explore their pagka-Pilipino, but what more can I say on that issue that Daly would not interpret as my being condescending? I will say that there is a beautiful quote on Perla Daly’s blog that I had never heard before. It says best what I have tried to say at the conclusion of many of my articles:

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” – Anais Nin

I am not a Filipino but I am a fellow human being. I am curious about many things, one of them being Filipino culture. I do not seek facts to kill wonder and mystery. Knowledge, not belief, leads us to even greater wonders and mysteries. And with that knowledge we can truly appreciate those greater wonders and mysteries. This is my spirituality. If Perla Daly dismisses it is as merely a tool for mockery, then none of what I have said here will ever change her mind.

-Paul Morrow, April 11, 2010.