Magellan in the Philippines’ memory
Celia Anna Feria, Philippine ambassador to Portugal, during one of the many Lisbon events in the run-up to the 500th anniversary of the circumnavigation of the world, wondered why the Philippines was left out of an ongoing conversation centered between Portugal and Spain, between Magellan and Elcano.
Cebu and Mactan were not mere stops in that long journey, and events in these places are historically significant to Filipinos. Like most Filipino schoolchildren, Feria was taught that Magellan was a Portuguese who sailed for the crown of Spain. None of her teachers elaborated on whether he was actually Portuguese or Spanish — a question that has seen a recent debate between Spanish and Portuguese historians, and that has reopened a wound that took five centuries to heal.
To join the conversation on the 500th-anniversary event, Feria skillfully deployed culture to complement the political and economic expressions in our bilateral relations. Through a recent Philippine Film Festival in Lisbon top-billed by National Artist Kidlat Tahimik and an exhibit on mat-weaving or banig, Lisbon was made aware of Filipino artistry, resulting in inquiries from film distributors and orders of banig from Portuguese interior designers.
Today, at the Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa, I join four other Filipino historians — Rene Escalante, Danny Gerona, Francis Navarro and Felice Noelle Rodriguez — in presenting the impact of the Magellan expedition on Philippine history.
“Magalhães, Magallanes, Magellan” is a deceptively innocent title of the Lisbon seminar organized by our Embassy, with welcome funding from Antique Rep. Loren Legarda. The simple act of positioning the Portuguese, Spanish and English forms of a 16th-century explorer’s surname underscores not just matters of language and translation, but on a deeper level, also the question of viewpoint in history.
How is Ferdinand Magellan remembered in the Philippines today?
In a throwback to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines (1565-1898), three cities bear the name Magallanes. The largest is a second-class municipality in Sorsogon Province with 34 barangays; there’s also a fourth-class municipality in the province of Cavite with 16 barangays, and a fourth-class municipality in Agusan del Norte in the island of Mindanao with eight barangays. Magallanes Village, located at the southern end of Metro Manila, is an upscale gated community with a commercial area, a church and homes on streets relevant to the Magallanes expedition: Victoria, Trinidad, San Antonio and Santiago are the names of four of the five ships that comprised the expedition to the Moluccas in search of spices.
Homonhon and Limasawa streets refer to the site of Magellan’s first landing in Samar and the site of the first Roman Catholic mass in Leyte. Magallanes and Lapu-Lapu are the major arteries in Magallanes Village, for obvious reasons. Humabon reminds us of the ruler of Cebu who converted to Christianity, and strategically involved the naïve Magellan in a local political problem against the ruler of Mactan, resulting in Magellan’s tragic and useless end.
Magallanes Drive by the side of the Pasig River and the Manila Central Post Office refers to the Magallanes Monument, a former city landmark erected in 1848 and destroyed in the 1945 Battle of Manila. It was not rebuilt, and in its place now stands a monument commemorating not Magellan’s voyage but the Expedicion Maritima Mexico-Filipinas 1564-1964, namely the expedition of Legazpi and Urdaneta that rightly marks the beginning of Spanish colonization of the Philippines — in 1565, not 1521.
Cebu City prides itself as the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines. It has a memorial to Magellan’s Cross, and the Basilica of the Santo Niño houses two of the three oldest Christian relics in the country — the image of the “Ecce Homo” that the Queen of Cebu declined as a baptismal present from Magellan, and the Santo Niño that she accepted and doted on.
Mactan Island has a shrine believed to have been the site of the battle between Magellan and Lapu-Lapu, marked by a coral memorial erected in 1866 honoring Magellan.
Finally, there is a historical marker installed in Butuan in 1872, marking what is traditionally believed to be the site of the First Mass, which goes against the claim of Limasawa that is backed by historical documentation.
We have many historical sites and markers to remind Filipinos of the Magellan expedition, but people often pass them by, seeing but not noticing.
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