DR. RENE Escalante, chief of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and vice chairman of the National Quincentennial Commission (NQC), announced at a press conference in Makati City on Sept. 11, 2019 that the statue of Lapu-Lapu at the site of the Battle of Mactan will be replaced with a new monument.
It has set off noise by some sectors who said it would evict Cebu’s hero from where his statue has stood for decades. On April 27, 2021, exactly 500 years to the day after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was killed, the monument will be unveiled at the spot now occupied by Lapu-Lapu’s statue.
Sailing under Spain’s flag, Magellan had led the expedition that circumnavigated the world five centuries ago, an anniversary the nation will celebrate despite the scorn heaped on the activity by President Duterte.
Another side issue to the quincentennial is the alleged “eviction” of Lapu-Lapu’s statue, which involves both removal of the 10-foot figure and the diminution of the person it represented as Cebu’s hero.
Things that will happen
What exactly did Dr. Escalante tell the public in that Sept. 11 press conference? He said:
 The statue will be moved to the courtyard of a museum that will be built on the same site, though he didn’t say how far from the grounds where it now stands. The monument, called “New Liberty Shrine,” will remove the Lapu-Lapu statue and his name from the present location. There’s also no mention of the Magellan Shrine located in the same area.
 The monument that will replace the statue will no longer portray “any single hero,” meaning Lapu-Lapu will not be the star and instead the scene will reflect a “collective effort” of local warriors who defeated and chased away the band of Spanish soldiers.
Correction of history
One can see from the announced plan that NHCP is trying to correct history by the transfer of the Lapu-Lapu statue, putting it in a secondary place, then erecting up front and center a monument.
Custodians of the country’s history tried that tack a few years ago when they attempted to remove the 40-foot statue of Lapu-Lapu erected in 2004 at the Agrifina Circle in Rizal Park in Luneta, Manila.
The publicized reason then was not Lapu-Lapu’s diminished stature as a hero. The statute was allegedly too close to the Rizal monument, “a violation of rules.” Besides, then Lapu-Lapu City mayor Paz Radaza wanted the Luneta statue moved to an islet near the entrance to Mactan, ala New York’s Statue of Liberty. That plan was staved off, which may not happen to NHCP’s current project, a major component of the “500” celebration.
What dissenters want
Those who disagree with NHCP’s move may be asked if they don’t want the symbols in remembering heroes to reflect closely the actual events in history. The 2021 quincentennial is apparently being used by NHCP for that purpose.
Escalante can present, to boost NHCP’s case. Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona, a Bicolano historian, and his studies on the pre-Spanish and Spanish colonial periods, particularly on the Battle of Mactan and the life of Lapu-Lapu. Gerona is the only non-Spanish member of Seville 2019-2022 committee based in Seville, Spain that is preparing for the quincentennial. Seville’s multi-sectoral committee published his book “Ferdinand Magellan: The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines.”
‘Wrong belief’ on heroism
As early as three years ago (reported by Inquirer on June 11, 2016), Gerona revealed results of his studies of original Spanish and Portuguese manuscripts, including accounts of Portuguese chronicler Gaspar Correa who came with another expedition four years after Magellan’s death, and the story of 18 of 27 Spanish soldiers who survived the battle and returned to Spain.
In sum, Gerona said, Lapu-Lapu’s heroism was “based on the wrong belief that he killed Magellan.” It was a folklore or, as he put it, a “fake-lore” repeated for five centuries.
The actual killer
Who actually killed Magellan? Could be, Gerona said, anyone of about 1,500 warriors sent to fight the band of Spaniards in Mactan. The Spanish soldiers who lived to tell the story described Lapu-Lapu as “viejo” who was too old to lead his soldiers.
But why was he given the credit for the killing? It was his soldiers who fought, he probably prepared the battle plan, he was leader and mastermind although he might not have taken part in the battle itself.
The purported historical evidence against Lapu-Lapu must be the major reason the 1993 Fidel Ramos-created committee didn’t include the Mactan chieftain in the shortlist of recommended national heroes.
Dissent to the NHCP moves won’t go far on mere suspicion that Manila may be deciding imperiously once again for Cebu.