Mactan, our first victory
The first defeat inflicted by Filipinos on Western invaders took place on April 27, 1521, on Mactan Island when followers of a local chief, Datu Lapu-Lapu, repulsed a force of 49 Spaniards, with some native warriors, led by Ferdinand Magellan. According to an account by Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar and chronicler of Magellan’s voyage, it was Magellan who sent a message to Lapu-Lapu “to obey the King of Spain, recognizing the Christian King as their sovereign, and pay us our tribute.” If they refused, “they would see how our lances wounded.” Lapu-Lapu proudly replied, saying they too, “had lances of bamboo and stakes hardened by fire.”In the battle that ensued, Spanish swords, axes, crossbows and guns were pitted against iron-tipped spears, arrows, fire-hardened sticks, and even stones. Magellan was hit on the right leg by a poisoned arrow, and wounded in the arm by a spear, with his left leg bloodied by a large native sword, possibly a kampilan. With their numerical advantage, Lapu-Lapu’s men overwhelmed the invading force, killing 14 Spaniards including Magellan. After the battle, Juan Sebastián del Cano succeeded Magellan as head of the expedition, and ordered the immediate departure of his fleet, returning to Spain in 1522, and completing the first circumnavigation of the world.On the island of Mactan is a shrine with the statue of Lapu-Lapu honoring him as the first Filipino hero to resist foreign rule. The battle that took place 500 years ago is re-enacted each year to mark his victory over Magellan. The world remembers Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese in the service of Spain who discovered the Philippines in March 1521. The world knows nothing about our Malayan ancestor, Datu Lapu-Lapu, who refused to recognize the King of Spain, and to pay tribute to him even in the face of threats by superior arms and weaponry.
—————Today, Mactan, a part of Cebu province, is home to some 470,000 people, making it the nation’s most densely populated island. It is the site of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), the Mactan Export Processing Zone, the Brigadier General Benito N. Ebuen Air Base, and the center of a booming high-class tourism industry in the region.Last week, a visit to Mactan gave me an opportunity to marvel at the MCIA, the best international airport in the country, with its spacious departure and arrival areas, functioning public facilities and beautiful landscaping that made one feel relaxed and comfortable.
Many years ago, when I was the administrator of the Export Processing Zone Authority, now the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, under the Department of Trade and Industry, Mactan was one of several export zones in the country. The zones were tax-free havens for foreign investors, desiring to set up manufacturing facilities in the Philippines and were a major source of employment for many of our people.
In 1990, a strong typhoon hit Central Visayas and a Korean vessel passing through the Mactan channel slammed into one of the pillars of the lone bridge connecting Mactan to the mainland. Closure of the bridge created immense difficulties for the factories in the zone, since the bridge represented the major passageway for raw materials and finished products moving in and out of the island. But cooperation and understanding between the government and the private sector brought about the successful resolution of a crisis situation.My recent trip also allowed me to visit the Benito Ebuen Air Base. This Philippine Air Force (PAF) facility, once known as Mactan Air Base, was built in 1961 by the US government and during the Vietnam War, was a staging area for aircraft and personnel movements, relieving congestion at Clark Air Base. In January 1999, it was renamed Brigadier General Benito N. Ebuen Air Base, in honor of the third commanding general of the PAF.
The base is home to the Air Mobility Command (AMC) of the PAF. The two major units of the command are the 220th Airlift Wing, and the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing. During my visit, Brig. Gen. Stephen Parreño, the deputy commander of the AMC, was my host, along with Col. Federico Enriquez, deputy commander of the Airlift Wing, and Col. Frederick Cutler, deputy commander of the helicopter unit. Their respective superiors were all in Manila attending testimonial activities honoring the outgoing PAF chief, Lt. Gen. Rozzano Briguez.During the Marawi crisis, the FA-50 jets that participated in the bombing campaign were based at the Benito Ebuen Air Base. The two C-130 transport aircraft that may be sent to Iraq to repatriate our OFWs from the Middle East, are also based there and form part of the airlift wing capability.
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