A study conducted by a history professor at the Palawan State University (PSU) has established an otherwise little known fact that Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to circumnavigate the globe was spent in large part in Palawan, in at least five previously undocumented areas.
The study, conducted in 2019 by Prof. Michael Angelo Doblado for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), established that after Magellan’s death in Mactan his voyage had continued and made several landfalls in Palawan.
Doblado, head of PSU’s Palawan Studies Center, in his research paper entitled “The Palawan Landfall of the Magellan-Elcano Voyage in the Philippines”, asserted that the voyage, which was at that point being led by Juan Sebastian Elcano following Magellan’s death, first approached Old Aborlan for a landfall but was driven away by the belligerent Tagbanua tribes.
Doblado said that the expedition eventually made repeated landfalls in the coasts of southern Palawan, particularly Brooke’s Point, Bataraza, Balabac, and Sofronio Espanola.
Doblado said he submitted the study to the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC) which commissioned the study in 2019 and that the NHCP had already validated parts of his findings, particularly the landings in three towns-Brooke’s Point, Balabac and Bataraza.
No previous study
Doblado said that when he set out to do the research, there was no available historical literature on the Magellan-Elcano voyage in Palawan.
“Akala ko ay meron na na-conduct na naka-focus para alamin kung saan specifically nag-land sa Palawan, but wala. Binabanggit lang sa isang libro ni Nilo Ocampo, ang title ng libro niya ay Moro, Katutubo, Kristyano (Katutubo, Muslim, Kristyano: Palawan). According to him, baka ang first landing daw ay sa Aborlan o Puerto Princesa. Actually, nag-cite lang siya ng ibang source, at ang unang nakasalamuha ay mga Tagbanua, Pero hanggang doon lang,” Doblado told Palawan News.
“Yong iba naman ay mga foreign na research pero hindi nila matukoy specifically [kung] saan sa Palawan, dumaan lang,” he added.
He also pointed out that the secondary data that can be accessed on the internet would only acknowledge that the voyage passed through Palawan.
“Hindi na-identify saan specific sa Palawan kaya mahirap din siya maging parte ng ating historical consciousness dahil hindi natukoy,” he said.
Aborted landing in Aborlan
Doblado asserted that Old Aborlan or the Aborlan-Narra was the first anchorage area, while Pulot or the Sofronio Española area was the first landing site followed by Brooke’s Point, Balabac, and Bataraza.
His study showed that the expedition stayed for almost 66 days in Palawan out of the total number of 172 days on which the Magellan-Elcano voyage stayed in the Philippines.
Records show that following the death of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, Juan Sebastián Elcano took command of the voyage with the remaining two ships named Victoria and Trinidad.
“Bumaba sila ng Bohol. From Bohol, bumaba sila ng Mindanao, specifically umikot pa sila ng Mindanao, nakarating pa sila ng Zamboanga, wala na silang pagkain niyan, kakaunti na lang so survival mode sila. Sa paningin namin, nakapagtanong na sila kung saan lugar ang may pagkain, ang itinuro pakanluran. Tumawid sila from Zamboanga at nakarating sila ng Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi, Mapun ngayon,” he said.
He said that the indigenous people of the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi directed Elcano’s group to go westward. He added that it can be seen that people in Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi had already a connection with those living in Palawan particularly in the southern part of the province through trades.
“So far, ang talagang 100 percent na masasabi natin na validated na ay Brooke’s Point, Balabac at Bataraza pero doon sa paper ko ay lima. Aborlan ang first na anchorage, nagbaba ng angkla, huminto ang barko, ‘yon ang Aborlan area. Sa first anchorage nila, nag-try sila mag-land sa Old Aborlan area, padaong na sila, malapit na sila sa dalampasigan, sinibat sila, isang grupo ng mga katutubo,” he said.
Attacked by the Tagbanua tribes
Doblado asserted that Elcano’s group failed to land in Old Aborlan after Tagbanua tribe attacked them.
He said that the reason Elcano’s group reached Palawan was in hope of finding food resources after their voyage when Magellan was defeated in the Mactan battle.
Doblado said it is yet to be determined why the Tagbanuas pushed away the Spaniards. He theorized that the Tagbanuas may have suspected them for pirates out to capture slaves.
He proceeded with the narrative that after the failed attempt to dock their ships in Old Aborlan shore, Elcano tried to go northward but was blocked by the harsh monsoon and discouraged by their dwindling food supply.
“Umikot sila pa-South dahil kailangang-kailangan nila ng mapagkakanlungan dahil expose sila sa elements. Sikat ang Palawan dahil maraming lugar na pwede ka mabahura lalo kung mataas ang alon. Ang pinakamalapit na pwede nila pagtaguan ang Bahia de las Islas o Bay of Islands. Bay siya o cove tapos may mga isla, apat o lima sa harap ng Pulot dati, Española ngayon. Dito nila ina-attempt ang first landing,” he said.
One of the voyagers, Joam de Campos represented himself in an attempt to look for food sources in the area. According to Antonio Pigafetta which Doblado cited, Campos was fed and entertained by villagers and found out through sign language that the area was led by a Datu of Borneo. Campos offered a barter trade to natives for pounded rice.
“Naglayag sila, lumipat sila sa isang area na may tinatawag na port. Sa research ay Port of Tegozzao, kung titingnan mo, may barangay sa Brooke’s Point na barangay Barong-Barong na meron sitio na Tagusao, sa tabi ng Tagusao river, bukana. Malamang ang Port of Tegozzao, na nilipatan nila from Pulot, ‘yon ang barangay Barong-Barong ngayon na nakakasakop sa barangay Tagusao, na nasa tabi ng ilog Tagusao na ang bukana niya ay palabas na ng Sulu sea,” he said.
“From Borneo, nabahura sila sa Bibalon. Ang Bibalon ay lumang pangalan ng Balabac. Sa mga isla sa pagitan ng Bibalon at Simbonbon, ang Bibalon siguro ‘yong malaking isla ng Balabac ngayon and ‘yong Simbonbon na eight degrees north and seven minute na kung i-GPS mo siya, Bugsok. Sa pagitan ng Bibalon at Bugsok ay maraming isla pa,” he said.
After they stayed to repair, the third landing was recorded in Balabac. Doblado said that due to insufficient supply of materials needed for repair, they transferred at the southern tip of Palawan which is the barangay Buliluyan in Bataraza as the fourth landing where they spent the remaining days before going to Mindanao and down to the Moluccas, Indonesia for the spices.
The study was commission by the NHCP under Executive Order No. 55 tasking the Palawan Studies Center to complete the study and submit a position paper Doblado said that based on the response of NHCP in 2020, three landing areas in Palawan had validated which are Balabac, Brooke’s Point and Bataraza.
He said he is currently coordinating with the local government units of three towns for the installation of historical markers for the Palawan route of the Magellan-Elcano voyage.
“Ngayon ay nakikipag-coordinate na ako mismo sa local na pamahalaan ng tatlong munisipyo na ito and na-forward ko na rin ‘yong letter ng National Historical Commission sa kanila, ‘yong design o layout sa kanila. Magkakaroon ka ng historical marker, mapupunan mo ‘yong gap sa lokal na kasaysayan ng Palawan as a whole at magiging mas mayaman ang lokal na kasaysayan,” he said.
Doblado said that all the countries which were part of the Magellan-Elcano expedition are now processing their application to declare those sites World Heritage Sites. The Philippines has 34 landing sites of the expedition wherein four of those are located in Palawan.
Doblado said he is still waiting for the validation of the two remaining towns included in his paper.
Doblado said that they also plan to deepen the study and write a book about the expedition’s stay in Palawan that could help in teaching the local history of the province.
“Ang PSC ay member ng Local Historical Committees Network ng NHCP. Kami ang gumagawa ng research, at kami na rin ang local coordinator [ng NHCP]. Magko-coordinate kami sa mga LGU para sa mga requirements para sa mga historical marker,” said Doblado.
He added that the PSC dreams that Palaweños would be active in studying its local history and stressed that is better to have local researchers, historian and history enthusiast that would study about the history from towns to the barangay level.