I ALWAYS have this fascination with history. I realized this when I covered an anthropological survey conducted by three University of the Philippines (UP) professors in Poro town in the Camotes group of islands in the ‘90s. There’s thrill in reconstructing the past akin to the vicarious suspense one feels while following his favorite fictional detective reconstruct a crime scene in one of his favorite novels.
There was this claim that the so-called Battle of Mactan between a Spanish expeditionary force led by the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan and natives led by the chieftain Lapu-Lapu in 1521 happened not in the present-day Mactan island but in the village of Maktang in Poro. That claim may be a stretch for many, but who knows?
So there we were on the shores of Maktang, Poro digging a stretch of land that turned out to be a pre-colonial graveyard. During a break, I sat alone watching the waves gently lapping the village’s shoreline and imagining a scene not of the battle but of a Chinese ship with merchants bartering goods with the natives. The digging we did and those done by treasure hunters years before then had produced porcelain made during the heyday of the Ming dynasty in China.
Today, Cebu City will again commemorate the Battle of Tres de Abril, which happened more than three centuries after the Battle of Mactan. Those are essentially the same battles though they differ in magnitude and in the faces of the personalities involved. Those battles pitted Spaniards against Cebuanos, between foreigners and natives. Both were, during certain stretches triumphs of the Cebuanos’ will.
I got a better perspective of the Tres de Abril battle when I read and re-read the narrative, meager though it is, from history books. That was when I was commissioned by the Cebu Provincial Government and the University of San Carlos to write the history of Tudela, the town where my late father Tiyong was born. Incidentally, Tudela shares with Poro town the island that is also called Poro in the Camotes group of islands.
The Battle of Tres de Abril refers to the uprising launched by Cebuanos against the Spanish colonial forces on Palm Sunday in 1898, which happened to fall on April 3. While the Battle of Mactan produced a leader who acquired almost mythical proportions in Lapu-Lapu, the Battle of Tres de Abril also produced a legendary leader in Pantaleon Villegas, a.k.a. Leon Kilat.
So now you know how that street where a statue now stands got its name. Also, you will no longer wonder why there is a Leon Kilat street not too far away from it. Other leaders of that uprising also got the privilege of having city streets named after them. The problem is the lack of effort by the government to make generations of Cebuanos fully appreciate their heroic deeds.
In this sense, I would like to congratulate Palm Grass, Cebu’s only heritage hotel, for doing what government has failed to do. It will celebrate Tres de Abril today with a talk by National Artist for Literature Resil Mojares on Tres de Abril. It has also been holding a stage play, “Abtik Pa’s Kilat,” also partly about the uprising. Nice one.