Correcting twisted historical tales

Published by rudy Date posted on December 1, 2010

History, they say, is 50 percent fact and 50 percent interpretation. In her book Heroes and Villains, launching tomorrow, Carmen “Maam Chitang” Guerrero Nakpil recollects the facts in order to correct twisted versions of our past. For one, she stresses, the Spaniards through Miguel Lopez de Legazpi didn’t bring civilization to the Philippines. Corollary to that, it’s wrong to celebrate June 24 as Manila’s foundation.

“The impression . . . is that a lordly Spanish conquistador founded Manila late in the 16th century on a primeval swamp at the mouth of the Pasig River populated by naked savages, who had never had a taste of social organization, and were thus set on the path of civilization by a European,” Maam Chitang notes. The accounts of Tome Pires, Pigaffeta and Gaspar de San Agustin, and researches of Cesar Majul, W.H. Scott and O.D. Corpuz say otherwise. From them she presents a composite of Manila when Legazpi arrived in Cebu from Mexico in 1565:

Natives of Luzon, including Batangas, Bulacan, Pampanga, were traders, investors, mercenaries, sailors, called Luzones. They operated, as of the 14th century, in the Southeast Asian commerce triangle between Canton, Malacca and Timor. As traders they owned ships, underwrote large-scale export ventures, and were called “discoverers” for their seafaring skills. As warriors, “the most warlike and valiant in these parts,” they fought in Malacca, the Batak-Menangkabaw army, in Ayuthia, under the command of a Filipino called Sapetu Diraja.

Luzon’s chief city was Maynila, ruled by three Muslim raha, or kinglets: Matanda, grandson of Sultan Bolkiah of Borneo; his nephew Sulayman; and Lakandula of Tondo. Taga-ilog datu, or chieftains, oversaw 40 surrounding fiefdoms. “The town all around this bay” consisted of smooth cultivated slopes. A palisade with many warriors defended it, along with artillery at gates guarded by linstock-armed bombardiers. At one point there were four Chinese trading junks in the harbor, and 40 Chinese and 20 Japanese married couples.

Legazpi dispatched 120 Spanish soldiers and 300 Cebuano allies, under shipmaster Martin de Goiti, to attack Maynila in 1570. Matanda routed them with cannons and poison arrows. The following year Legazpi himself, with three shiploads of reinforcements from Mexico, sailed to Manila. Instead of making war, he sent presents to Matanda and sought conciliatory audience with Sulayman. Another force of Taga-ilog ambushed the Spanish armada at the estero of Bangkusay in Tondo. This time Spanish firepower prevailed, as Sulayman’s foundry was razed, some documents say by the Cebuanos, others by Sulayman himself.

By virtue of victorious battle over a creek, Legazpi on June 24 claimed conquest and Spanish sovereignty over Maynila. Not only that, over the whole of Luzon and the rest of our archipelago. In a language his hosts didn’t understand, Legazpi decreed the territory to be called Nueva Castilla, a city charter, and construction of a plaza, two mansions and 120 houses. He pulled it off, Maam Chitang notes, by continuing to recognize Sulayman and Lakandula as Lords and Masters of Maynila and Tondo.

Maam Chitang notes that, more than 300 years later in 1898, US President McKinley would propagandize imperialism a la Legazpi. In a dream God allegedly instructed him “to Christianize and civilize those savages.” Lawyer McKinley was clearly ignorant of current events and history. Filipinos at the time already were winning painting and poetry competitions in cultural centers Madrid and Paris. There already was a Catholic University of Santo Tomas, founded 1611, predating America’s oldest counterpart, Harvard, by a quarter-century.

Maam Chitang straightens out other history errors. Like, Magellan couldn’t have been first to circumnavigate the world, since he had to stay behind in Mactan by force of circumstance. The first global sailor was actually also the first OFW, a Leyteño. That, and the exploits of insurrecto Macario Sakay, are best read in Maam Chitang’s own words. –Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star)

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