THE not-so-simplistic theme of the Quincentennial commemorations of the Philippines, “Victory and Humanity,” has confused some people, including intellectuals who are used to commemorations with simplistic themes such as “struggle for freedom against colonizers” or “looking back to the past as a way of looking forward.” As the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Magellan-Elcano expedition in the Philippines happened on March 16, a debate ensured on social media as to whether we are celebrating colonialism (not). The celebration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines made it even more complicated as it became a battle between freethinkers and believers, some toxic Protestants against Catholics and ultranationalists versus “cleric fascists.”
Because I took it upon myself to help the National Quincentennial Committee explain to the public a sober perspective on the events of 1521, I became quite stressed with it all. A senior TV host personally attacked me for my views when all I wanted was to use this commemoration to be able to bring more interesting history to the public. But then I realized, sans the toxicity of both the young cancel culturists and the elderly boomers, this contention is what we would like, that the people talk about these events that still affect our lives. I was hoping of course for a more sensible discussion despite our propensity for name-calling.
Zeus Salazar and fellow Manila Times columnist Van Ybiernas downplay the over-attention given to the events of 1521. Sure, they were important in world history but they were not watershed events in Philippine history. With Magellan’s arrival and death, nothing really changed in the lives of the Filipinos. Colonization would come only in 1565 with the arrival of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Although one may argue that it might not have happened if not for the earlier data provided by the Magellan-Elcano expedition and its chronicler Antonio Pigafetta.
Hopefully, come April 27, the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan, people will realize that this is really about celebrating Lapulapu and our ancestors. Watershed or not, we cannot do anything but commemorate the events of 1521 because they are deep in our consciousness. People like José Rizal, Emilio Jacinto, even the Act proclaiming Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898, recalled the Victory of Lapulapu over Magellan to inspire Filipinos to create the nation. That is why to those who are questioning why Lapulapu is a national hero, my answer is because our national heroes thought he was one.
Of course, for the public consciousness, we must blame Yoyoy Villame’s song that placed the events of 1521 in the popular psyche.
One might be confused about the old writings of Jacinto and the proclamation of independence talk of Kalipulako. That was how Juan Sebastian Elcano recalled the name of the King of Mactan to Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdez who in turn wrote it in Historia de las Indias in 1557.
Today, at 4 p.m., I will be giving an online lecture for the 158th birth anniversary of Mariano Ponce, who was born March 22, 1863, sponsored by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines entitled, “Ang Payunir na Public Historian: Ang Mga Ambag ni Ponce sa Pagtindig ng Bansang Pilipino.”
When we were schoolchildren, we memorized this propagandist pen names: Tikbalang, Naning and Kalipulako. Only later did I realize that the latter pen name alludes to the King of Mactan. Then, I learned much later from my colleague José Victor Torre that the newspaper La Solidaridad, credited as the organ that helped create our nation, was actually founded by Mariano Ponce.
His friend José Rizal (who was with him and Marcelo H. del Pilar in that famous triumvirate photo) once noted that we should write about the greatness and the intelligence of the Filipino to counter the prevailing negative outlook of the Spaniards against us. According to historian Dr. Ma. Luisa Camagay, Ponce took this seriously and one of the early articles he wrote was about the ancient cannon maker called Panday Pira. On Jan. 31, 1892, he started a column written as “efemerides,” or a collection of reports that happened on a certain day. Kind of what Epi Fabonan 3rd did with “Everyday History” but since the Soli was fortnightly, he wrote about the historical anniversaries that would be commemorated in the coming two weeks. And in these historical notes, he wrote under the pen name “Kalipulako.” Eventually, he continued to expand his topics in his later column “Efemerides Filipinas” with Jaime de Veyra in 1911 in El Ideal. Thus, under the name of the victorious leader of Mactan, Mariano Ponce is credited as a pioneer Filipino public historian.
Today, public history is slowly being recognized as an important field, just like academic history, in bringing the lessons of the past closer to the people. The Quincentennial is our golden chance to talk about our ancestors.