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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tell it to SunStar: Mactan airport name should stay

I AM against the move of some lawmakers to change the name, Mactan Cebu International Airport to Lapulapu International Airport.

“Lapulapu” is the Tagalog word for a grouper fish. Its Cebuano term is “pugapo.” Historian Gregorio Zaide might have used the former because he came from Luzon. Lapulapu or Pugapo needs closer study.

My father Jovito S. Abellana (1907-2005), who has written some historical accounts kept in the Cebuano Studies Center of the University of San Carlos (USC). told me Lapulapu was not a hero. My father’s explanation warrants consideration.

Lapulapu would have been hard-pressed to position himself in a seat of power, with Rajah Humabon as the king of Cebu. Humabon would have found it well within his means to quell the opposition of someone who barely even had potable water as a resource in his hometown.

Lapulapu was instead a pirate who would sometimes come to Opong or Opon (the old name of Mactan island) to waylay Chinese vessels that were coming to trade in Cebu City and loot them.

Thus the northern part of Opon was called “pulo sa mangatang,” which translates to a place in wait for an ambush. “Mangatang” was cut short by the Spaniards to Maktan.

Lapulapu would come to Opon during unguarded moments. Whenever there was a threat of confrontation, he and his men were always quick to escape by boat. That was why his second name was “Dimantag,” short for “Dili mataga” (hard to catch).

Lapulapu was, I believe, merely the scapegoat for a mutiny that occurred in Magellan’s ship as he was cruising the Pacific Ocean. Magellan’s men probably grew scared with the uncertainty of circumnavigating the world with no known route or chart. Those who remained loyal to Magellan retaliated, but Magellan became a casualty of this mutiny.

Five ships set out at the start of the voyage. Two sank during the mutiny. Without Magellan, going back to Spain was never an option, as they would have been executed for treason.

With the remaining ships, they continued the voyage, which ended with them landing in Sugbo or Cebu. The sailors were very happy because Cebu had trade connections with China, and China was a neighbor continent of Europe.

Circumnavigating the Earth was a big accomplishment. But history would not have been as appealing had Magellan died before accomplishing this feat. So the “Battle of Mactan” was concocted by the surviving sailors to give Magellan a decent and heroic end. This story would also have provided a good reason for Magellan’s men to return to Spain in glorious victory with the weight of treason lifted off their backs.

This story is quite controversial but is worth looking into. It is logical and sensible, as opposed to the idea that pirates with their bolos were able to somehow infiltrate galleons and their gunpowders to lay waste to their most important man in the voyage.

With this, I wish that the name “Mactan Cebu International Airport” will stay. Let us not honor a man who could quite easily have been a pawn in history.

(My father’s books can be read at the Cebuano Studies Center at USC.) (Victor N. Abellana)


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