Published: July 24, 2010
All trials in pre-Spanish Philippine society involving either criminal or civil cases were help publicly, and decisions were promptly given. The barangay court was composed of the datu as the chief judge and the elders of the barangays as its members.
During the trial, the accuser and the accused explained their respective sides. Both parties could present witnesses if they wished. These witnesses took an oath to show their honesty and sicerity. The oath was variously worded: “May the crocodile eat me if I tell any falsehood,” “May I die if I tell a lie,” “May the lighting strike me if I don’t tell the truth,” or “May the sun and the moon frown upon me if I tell a lie.”
The side who presented the more convincing proofs and witnesses was adjudged the winner. If the losing party contested the decision of the barangay court, the datu openly sided with the winner and compelled the loser to accept and respect the decision of the court.
In criminal cases, however, the procedure was different. The so-called trial by ordeal was used. It was believed that the gods would protect the innocent and punish the guilty, and that through the ordeals the gods revealed the divined truth to the people.
According to Miguel de Loarca, a Spaniard who wrote a book entitled Relacion de Las Islas Filipinas, published in 1582, the ancient Filipinos had several ways of determining guilt or innocence in a crime. These were the following;
#1. The River Ordeal – the suspects were made to jump into a river with their lances, and he who first rose to the surface was pronounced guilty.
#2. The Boiling-water Ordeal – usually used in cases of theft wherein the suspects were ordered to pick up a stone placed in a pot of boiling water; the suspect who refused to obey the command is pronounced the culprit. However, if all the suspects did what they were ordered to do, the man whose hand was the most seriously burned was pronounced guilty.
#3. The Candle Ordeal – the suspects were given lighted candles and the man whose candle first went out was declared guilty.
Women’s Position in Ancient Filipino Society
The women occupied a high position in early Filipino society. The laws and customs gave the women equality with the men. Women could own and inherit properly, engage in trade, and in the absence of a male heir, inherit or succeed to the headship of a barangay. Mothers also enjoyed the exclusive right to give names to their own children. To show them respect when accompanying women, the men walked behind them.