Dec 23, 2010

When was male circumcision first practised in the Philippines?

Dear Filipino,

My question: When was circumcision of males first practised in the Philippines?

This question is asked in connection with news that a man in San Francisco is proposing a ban on circumcision

Carlos Borromeo,
San Francisco

Dear Carlos,

When I talked to a good friend about your question, he suggested maybe it was first practised when, in 2008, then-Florida Gators' star quarterback, Tim Tebow, who now plays for the Denver Broncos in the National Football League, decided to go back to the Philippines (where he was bornfor his spring break that year in order to play "quarter-hack" instead. 

Imagine: The future of some Filipino boys
actually depends on the quality of the
'workmanship' of this NFL dude.
So take a bow, Tim Tebow! :-)

Kidding aside, of course, the answer to your question, Carlos, necessitated a bit more research.  So I did.

One Filipino writer, Rommel G. Rebollido, in an article for Sun Star which was reposted by CIRP (which stands for Circumcision Information and Resource Pages), claims that "in the Philippines, where it has been a tradition for over a century now, there is nothing definite as to how and when it really began."

Fair enough, even though there's no mention of his sources.  But then he adds, "common belief has it that the practice was introduced by western colonizers."

By "western colonizers" and his dating of the "tradition" as being "over a century now," was Rebollido referring to Americans who occupied the Philippines after the official end of the Philippine-American War in 1902 and who are believed to be the ones to have popularized the practice among Koreans?

Since Rebollido wrote his article in 2005 and Filipinos could not have adopted American traditions immediately right after the war to allow for traditions to be "over a century now," was he in fact referring to Spaniards as the "westerners" who "introduced" the practice?

Actually, whether Rebollido was referring to Americans or Spaniards is irrelevant because his claim has no historical foundation.

In other words, he and those who espouse this "common belief" are wrong.  For in fact, according to the accounts of Antonio de Morga, a Spanish lawyer, high-ranking colonial official in the Philippines, and the historian who published the book Sucesos de las islas Filipinas (Events in the Philippine Isles) in 1609, which  is considered the best and perhaps most important work on the early history of Spanish colonialism in the country:
A few years before the Spaniards subdued the island of Luzon, certain natives of the island of Borneo began to go thither to trade, especially to the settlement of Manila and Tondo; and the inhabitants of the one island intermarried with those of the other. These Borneans are Mahometans, and were already introducing their religion among the natives of Luzon, and were giving them instructions, ceremonies, and the form of observing their religion, by means of certain gazizes whom they brought with them. Already a considerable number, and those the chiefest men, were commencing, although by piecemeal, to become Moros, and were being circumcised* and taking the names of Moros. Had the Spaniards' coming been delayed longer, that religion would have spread throughout the island, and even through the others, and it would have been difficult to extirpate it.
Morga was explicit -- was he not? -- that the practise of circumcision in the Philippines predates the Spaniards.  He also implied quite clearly that it was introduced by Mohametans -- i.e., Muslims!

Now, did you notice the word which I emboldened and italicised?  Did you notice the asterisk? 

Yes?  Good -- because I want to add the following annotation:

"This custom has not fallen into disuse among the Filipinos, even among the Catholics."

Now, guess who made that annotation?

Well, who else but our very own national hero, Jose P. Rizal?

Yes, sir!  Morga's  work apparently impressed Rizal so much that the latter decided to annotate it and publish a new edition.

But why would Rizal add that phrase -- "even among the Catholics"?

My theory is this: Because Rizal knew that religious male circumcision is more closely followed by Muslims and is also universally observed by followers of Judaismeven though the practice is, for some mistaken reason, being generally associated nowadays with members of the country's predominant religion (i.e., Catholicism).  In fact, I was surprised to learn that, historically, the Roman Catholic Church has actually denounced religious circumcision for its members in the Cantate Domino, which was written during the 11th Council of Florence in 1442.

In any case, I would be interested to find out if that San Fran man succeeds with the ban.  So would Tim Tebow, I'm sure.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at


Hugh7 said...

The Catholic Church has continued to oppose circumcision:

"...the amputation of any part of the human body is never legal, except when the entire body cannot be saved from destruction by any other method." - Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58)

"From a moral point of view, circumcision is permissible if, in accordance with therapeutic principles, it prevents a disease that cannot be countered in any other way." - Pope Pius XII

" Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law." - Catechism of the Catholic Church (Item 2297: Respect for bodily integrity)

Together with Paul, he [St Barnabas] then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the Elders decided to discontinue the practice of circumcision so that it was no longer a feature of the Christian identity (cf. Acts 15: 1-35). It was only in this way that, in the end, they officially made possible the Church of the Gentiles, a Church without circumcision.

- Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, January 31, 2007

The Church in the Philippines seems to have forgotten this.

JoeyT said...

So is there any indigenous Filipino ritual about performing circumcision when a boy reaches 10 years old?

nishtar said...

a true filipino male undergoes the ritual of circumcision around the age of puberty or a few days after birth if decided upon by the parents.this is a rite of passage essential to the pinoy psyche, it gives a sense or feeling of being an adult or of becoming an adult, it gives a feeling of pride among his who is uncircumsized is an insult, being called "Supot" is a derogatory term, like if a boy is still uncircumsized give him a feeling that he doesnt fully belong to the group, being called supot means also being a coward which means he does not have the guts to handle the perceived pain of the process of being circumsized and the immediate pain and discomfort of the procedure, hence , when there is a need for his participation in the group he may not be trusted fully to do what is required because of the perception that he is coward etc.Being supot may mean being a sissy, since sissys are perceived not to be able to handle the the kid's mind, being circumcized is something to be proud of, as can be seen by those circumcized being able to urinate freely wherever he wants to and be seen by his chums , showing off his present penile state, as compared to the uncircumsized one who covers his, for fear of being called supot.penile size doesnt matter much, what matters is who has undergone the ritual. also, the one who underwent the procedure is called binyagan in the vernacular, meaning , he who was " baptized".

Elena Delgado said...

I believe circumcision in the Philippines is a tradition amongst Austronesians, even before the introduction of Muslims into the country. Islam influence is not as widespread in the Philippines for circumcision to be so spreadout to every nook & cranny within the country. Even Taiwanese aboriginals who Filipinos descended from practice circumcision. & the Tawanese aboriginals certainly didn't get the tradition from the non-precticing Chinese who now inhabit 98% of the island. The Ainus of Japan practice circumcision as well, yet there is no Islamic influence there. So circumcision is a tradition of certain cultures without Judaism/Islamic/Western influence.

Jonathan Estrada said...

@nishtar, i don't remember myself, brothers, cousins or friends having the audacity to pee anywhere we wanted to. circumcized or not, we knew we had to cover our weapons by facing the wall (or the bushes) whenever we peed outdoors. displaying them would have been scandalous.

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