Tall tales | Inquirer Opinion
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Tall tales

Jose E. Marco is one of Philippine historiography’s greatest mysteries. All we know is that he was one of the most successful forgers, having created many fake documents in a career that spanned half a century. His most famous inventions—such as the “Code of Kalantiaw” (a pre-Spanish set of laws from Batan, Aklan) and “La Loba Negra” (a novel supposed to have been written by the martyred Fr. Jose A. Burgos)—are still in some textbooks.

Last week, while downloading books from the Internet, I found a manuscript by a Filipino representative who was supposedly present during the framing of the Cadiz Constitution of 1812. I was so excited because this primary source was not cited in the literature published for the bicentennial of the Cadiz Constitution two years ago, and I had, as they say in journalese, a scoop. Unfortunately, when I opened the file I found that the manuscript was yet another forgery by Marco. Like land mines, these Marco manuscripts lie in wait for the unsuspecting or excitable researcher who will use the material at his peril.


Some historians have asked why I am interested in a figure who should not only be banished from the historical record but cursed and damned as well in scholarly literature. I am interested in Marco because of his industry, and also as a way to understand the setting that made his forgeries possible. P.T. Barnum is quoted as having said: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And there is also the Pinoy saying about letting oneself be conned: “Walang manloloko kung walang paloloko.”

I think Marco was able to fool the scholars and experts for half a century because he did not create fantastic fakes but stuff that seemed plausible. Perhaps his forgeries were made possible by our desire for pre-Spanish documents, by our wish to have a novel by Father Burgos, by our wanting to have the documents that fill in the gaps in Philippine history.


Teaching in Sophia University in Tokyo gave me the opportunity to go over the collection of the late bibliographer Mauro Garcia that was acquired for the university library some decades ago. It is filled with the standard works on Philippine history that made it possible for me to continue writing this column from Japan; more importantly, it had some rare materials not found in any Filipiniana library in Manila.

One of the surprises was finding a 361-page typewritten copy of Marco’s “A Philippine Folklore” (Bacolod: 1940), containing practically all that is known on his subject: in our country, through the aid of what has been written on this subject in the archives of neighboring countries, from pre-Hispanic days to the end of the conquest. Of course, the material in this volume is too good to be true. It would not be used by a seasoned historian, but students researching for a term paper would, and I’m glad this Marco work is hidden in Tokyo rather than readily available in the Philippines.

The work is divided into many stories from many supposed archival sources. This one is about the Philippines at the Spanish contact. Marco wrote:

“In the archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain exists a rare document which bear direct connection with the fate of the first expeditionary forces of Spain which landed in Cebu. Apparently the curious document was prepared by a Spaniard named Don Pedro Arcano, a few years after the return in (sic) Spain of the first expeditionary force. The document addressed to the King of Spain is headed with a sort of a petition, asking that a better expedition be prepared again and sent out of the country. This document appears to be dated February 1660. The copy from which this narrative was obtained was one furnished by Don Wenceslao Retana in the year 1902, and given to the author. Señor Retana did not say how the original came to the Archives in Seville, Spain.”

The document relates Magellan’s refusal to pay the anchorage fees charged by Moroporo and Tupas. Tupas requested Magellan’s aid again. The narrative is about the murder of the remainder of the Spaniards who survived the Battle of Mactan. It is also about Balangaw (baptized Maria Magdalena), the 14-year-old daughter of Tupas, who was “instructed to stay on board the ship, to entertain the Spaniards there with songs and dances and be as good as possible to them, even sacrificing her honor, in order that the Spaniards may be persuaded to come to land.”

Two-thirds of the survivors headed by Barboza and Serrano disembarked to receive from Tupas a gift for the King of Spain. Balangaw was left to the rudest men and became “the object of the most shameful and infamous abuses on her chastity by the crew.” She jumped from the ship naked and swam to shore, where she saw the pit where the dead Spaniards had been dumped. She fell into the pit dead. The only survivor of the massacre was Guillermo Teneji, left by his companions, who refused to fetch him on shore for fear of the natives. Barboza and Serrano were given drink at noon, and they all slept. By night time 26 of them had been massacred.

Fantastic and convoluted Marco’s story may be, but it supplements what is missing from Pigafetta’s account of the Magellan expedition. This document and much more make Marco’s work worthy of further study.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: cadiz constitution, Code of Kalantiaw, Don Pedro Arcano, Don Wenceslao Retana, Filipiniana University, fraud, History, Jose A. Burgos, Jose E. Marco, La Loba Negra, Magellan expedition, Mauro Garcia, P.T. Barnum, Philippine history, Pigafetta, Sophia University
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