‘Filipino time’ | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

‘Filipino time’

/ 05:05 AM January 01, 2021

Dec. 31, 1844, is a date like no other in Philippine history. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happened on this day. Nobody was born. Nobody died.

Dec. 31, 1844, did not happen because Spanish Governor-General Narciso Claveria y Zaldua decreed it so, with the agreement of the Archbishop of Manila, of course. Claveria, in his idle moments, wondered about a “missing day” in his reckoning of time and the calendar from the time he left Spain and settled in Manila. To make up for this “lost day,” Claveria reset the Philippine calendar such that Dec. 30, 1844, would be followed immediately by Jan. 1, 1845.

One of the significant events overlooked by the focus on the 2021 commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world by the Magellan expedition, the introduction of Christianity to the Philippines, and the victory of Lapu-Lapu, who killed Ferdinand Magellan in a battle on the shores of Mactan, is the introduction of a Western notion of time to the Philippines. It is said that if you ask a fish to describe its surroundings, the last thing it would describe, if at all, would be the water it swims in. Filipinos today, reared on a notion of time imposed on us through the Gregorian Calendar, should acknowledge “Filipino time” without embarrassment and claim it as a remnant of our resistance to colonial rule. Kidding aside, instead of explaining why we Filipinos are lax about time, it may be illuminating to go back to its roots and uncover the pre-Spanish notion of time.


How did Filipinos reckon time before Magellan? Few people remember that Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of the Magellan expedition, one of the survivors of the battle of Mactan who actually made it back to Spain and completed a circumnavigation of the globe, could not account for a missing day in his journal:


“On Wednesday, the ninth of July [1522], we arrived at one of these islands named Santiago, where we immediately sent the boat ashore to obtain provisions. […] And we charged our men in the boat that, when they were ashore, they should ask what day it was. They were answered that to the Portuguese it was Thursday, at which they were much amazed, for to us it was Wednesday, and we knew not how we had fallen into error. For every day I, being always in health, had written down each day without any intermission. But, as we were told since, there had been no mistake, for we had always made our voyage westward and had returned to the same place of departure as the sun, wherefore the long voyage had brought the gain of twenty-four hours, as is clearly seen.”

The Italian Francesco Carletti, who visited Manila at the end of the 16th century, also noticed a missing day when he compared dates in Japan and the Philippines:

“And we found a difference in reckoning the days between us, who had come from the city of Manila, and the Portuguese who had come from that of Macao, an island of China. These Portuguese, having left Lisbon and navigated constantly eastward, had reached Japan as the farthest point of their journeying. During their voyage, the sun having risen for them constantly earlier, they had gained twelve hours of a natural day. We, on the contrary, having left the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Spain and navigated steadily westward and having lost daylight constantly because the sun kept rising later, had lost twelve hours. So when we discussed it with them, we found that we had reached a difference of one day. And when they said that it was Sunday, we counted up to Saturday. Had I pursued my voyage around the entire world without having met those Portuguese, by the time of my arrival in Europe, whence I first had departed, I should have lost exactly a whole day of twenty-four hours.”

Carletti was perplexed just thinking about the rules of abstinence of meat, because while the Portuguese in Japan were celebrating Easter with feasting, the Spaniards in the Philippines were still held by abstinence because it was Holy Saturday in Spanish Manila.

Anyway, Pigafetta’s missing day was settled when 26 countries adopted the International Dateline established by the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC in 1884. Manila was already in sync, because Narciso Claveria had canceled Dec. 31, 1844.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Filipino time, Francesco Carletti, Looking Back

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