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When Scarborough was ‘Panacot’

Common sense, as we all know, is far from common. Then there are the things we hold to be true without question. When we take the trouble to give these a second look, sometimes we are surprised to find the opposite to be true. People who have followed this column for many years know how curious I am, how I continually ask questions about things we think we know, and being rewarded with what T.S. Eliot described as going on a long journey and returning to the place you started and knowing it like it was the first time you saw it.

Sometimes, I fall into a trap and regret it—big-time. Some years ago, a friend from the Department of Foreign Affairs proposed that I spend a few months in Spain to dig up old maps and charts of the Philippines involving Scarborough Shoal aka Scarborough Reef aka Democracy Reef aka Bajo de Masinloc aka Huangyan Island aka Panatag Shoal depending on which map, source, or national interest is concerned. It was an opportunity too good to resist: Imagine being paid to go abroad, to do something you truly enjoy. However, I declined and told my friend that we could not counter China’s historical claim because the oldest map with the name “Filipinas” or “Islas de San Lazaro” would date to the 16th century, and China can surely trump us with something older. History, in this issue, was not the way to go.

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Last week, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio delivered a lecture titled “Historical Truths and Lies: Scarborough Shoal in ancient Maps” at Ateneo de Manila Rizal Library with a slide show showing that Scarborough Shoal was consistently depicted in ancient Philippine maps from 1636 to 1940. We can also presume that long before the first map with this shoal was charted, Filipino fishermen had known about it and considered it part of our territory.

Chinese maps, on the other hand, beginning with “Hua Yi Tu” engraved in stone in the 12th century to another in 1933, all show Hainan as the southernmost territory of China. The constitutions of China also state that its southernmost territory is Hainan Island, which most people associate with a tasty boiled chicken dish. Hainan is very far from Scarborough Shoal, which does not appear in any of the ancient Chinese maps. Scarborough Shoal only appears in recent Chinese maps within a nine-dash line drawn to assert China’s claim.

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The Jesuit dimension to Philippine cartography was not lost on Mr. Justice Carpio, who is an Ateneo alumnus. Two important Philippine maps were made by Jesuits: one by Pedro Murillo Velarde in the 18th century, and the other by Jose Algue in the 20th century. Add to these an important 17th-century Chinese map made by the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci.

The Murillo Velarde map of 1734 is quite rare, with less than 50 known copies to exist in the entire universe. There are supposed to be two known copies of it in a private collection in Manila; our National Library and National Museum do not have an original. Last November, a copy of the Murillo Velarde map was consigned to Sotheby’s London by the Duke of Northumberland, who is better known as the lord of the manor that became the setting for the Harry Potter films. This map, charted by Murillo Velarde and engraved by the native artist Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay in Manila in 1734, sold for P12,255,310 to a Filipino buyer who will hopefully share the treasure with the public.

The next best thing to seeing the original will be to download a high-resolution image from The World Digital Library or from the website of the Biblioteca Nacional de España where it is described as a: “magnificent map of the Philippine archipelago… the first and most important scientific map of the Philippines… The map shows the maritime routes from Manila to Spain and to Mexico… In the upper margin stands a great cartouche with the title of the map, crowned by the Spanish royal coat of arms flanked each side by an angel with a trumpet, from which an inscription unfurls. The map is not only of great interest from the geographic point of view, but also as an ethnographic document. Flanked by twelve engravings, six on each side, eight of which depict different ethnic groups living in the archipelago and four of which are cartographic descriptions of particular cities or islands: Sangleyes or Chinese; Kaffirs (a derogatory term for non-Muslims), a Camarin (from the Manila area), and a Lascar (from the Indian subcontinent, a British Raj term); mestizos, a Mardica (of Portuguese extraction), and a Japanese; and two local maps one of Samboagan, the other of the port of Cavite. On the right side are: various people in typical dress; three men seated, an Armenian, a Mughal, and a Malabar (from an Indian textile city); an urban scene with various peoples; a rural scene with representations of domestic and wild animals; a map of the island of Guajan (Guam); and a map of Manila.”

When people ask why I didn’t do this research before Mr. Justice Carpio, I nod my head in regret for an opportunity missed. I look at the Murillo Velarde map and note that Scarborough Shoal was then known as “Panacot” (Threat), a significant detail in the context of our territorial dispute with China. Maps do not just chart territory, they also give us a graphic picture of a nation.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Antonio t. carpio, Bajo de Masinloc, Democracy Reef, Hua Yi Tu, Huangyan Island, Jose Algue, panatag shoal, Pedro Murillo Velarde, Scarborough Reef, Scarborough Shoal
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