THE song is not meant to be taken seriously, but it has, at least for me, become something of a date checker. When somebody asks me of the date of Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival in our archipelago, I sing Yoyoy Villame. “On Marts sixtin piptin handrid twinti wan, wen Pilipins was diskobird by Madzilan... “
Today is precisely March 16, the same day almost five centuries ago when a hardy band of Spanish explorers led by the Portuguese Magellan “saw a small Limasawa Island” after “sailing day and night, across the big ocean.” That date is important specifically for Cebuanos not for what happened on that day but for what happened weeks later in Mactan Island. That merited an entry in world history books.
History, however, is not written by the vanquished. Magellan’s defeat in Mactan by natives led by Lapulapu paved the way for the conquest of the archipelago by the Spaniards decades later. Colonization distorted our view of our own past. While there were efforts by the colonizing power to piece together out precolonial past, the interpretation of the big picture was overwhelmingly pro-Spanish.
In 2021, that little incident in world history will already be 500 years old. The celebration will certainly be huge and the governments of the Philippines and Spain are already preparing for it. That’s expected. Cebu will be at the center of it all. And since it will be celebratory, the brutal colonization by Spain would be downplayed and the exploitative and oppressive nature of its rule glossed over.
But that is not my main beef. The commemoration of the arrival of the Magellan expeditionary forces in the archipelago will necessarily focus again on a story that has been told and retold already: the archipelago during the Spanish rule. I thirst rather for the story of the archipelago before the Spaniards, and later the Americans, shaped us in their own image.
I realized this when I wrote the history of the town where my father was born, Tudela, in the Camotes group of islands. Reading materials that chronicled life in the archipelago before the arrival of the Spaniards led me to one theory: that what we are now is a result of our failure to embrace our true identity. The greatest irony is when we laugh at the practices of the lumads: our impure selves mocking our old and pure selves.
We should celebrate March 16 but not for the arrival of the Spaniards. I say it pays if we take a closer look at what happened prior to the first mass, or during the Spaniards’ first contact with the natives. It is just unfortunate that what we know about March 16 are seen in the prism of the glasses worn by the westerner Pigafetta. Even then, we can glean from him the level of civilized conduct achieved by the natives of the archipelago at that time.
We celebrate March 16 not because the “Philippines was discovered by Magellan” but because we discovered our own selves based on how the natives interacted with the Spaniards. March 16 should be seen, finally, in the perspective of Lapulapu and Humabon and not of Magellan and Pigafetta.