With the conclusion of a recent study and subsequent unveiling of three out of four historical markers in the province, Palawan has officially etched itself as part of a great history of the Philippines and perhaps of the world, that dates back to 500 years ago.
This significant event has rewritten history that started when the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) began its preparation for the quincentennial celebration or the 500th year anniversary of the Ferdinand Magellan’s Limasawa landing, the expedition that would soon become the first circumnavigation of the earth that was completed in 1522. As part of the preparation, Palawan State University’s Palawan Studies Center (PSC) headed by Professor Michael Angelo Doblado was tasked by the NHCP to conduct a study on the passage of the expedition in Palawan.
While there were already accounts of what is now known as the Magellan-Elcano expedition, the NHCP said they have no official journal of the voyage yet.
“In 2019, while preparing for the quincentennial celebration, they realized that there was still no formal study on the passage of the expedition in Palawan. So I was tasked by Dr. Rene Escalante to conduct the research,” Doblado said.
“They gave me primary sources to study where the route went through. Most of which are Antonio Pigafetta’s chronicles and Francisco Albo’s notes, among others. The NHCP gave me three versions of Pigafetta’s accounts that I compared, along with other notes,” he added.
With the completion of Doblado’s research and the publication of his journal “Locating the Magellan-Elcano Voyage in Palawan,” out of the 34 historical markers that the quincentennial commission would install throughout the Philippines, four are in Palawan towns where the Magellan-Elcano expedition made landfalls.
Escalante praised and thanked the PSC, stating that Doblado’s research now forms an integral part of the NHCP’s accomplishments and history.
“His (Doblado’s) study on the Palawan episode of the first circumnavigation of the world enriched our position paper backing the approval of the historical markers by the NHCP Board,” Escalante stated.
Doblado also said the study is important as it also gives narratives of Spanish occupation that also showcases the southern part of the country.
“One important aspect for Palawan history is the fact that this gives balance because during the Spanish period it is always the north because there are lots of evidence of Spanish presence there such as churches,” he explained. But based on this research, we found that they first went south,” he added.
“The people of Leyte, Cebu, Mactan, Bohol, and Butuan are proud and aware of the important roles their respective areas played in this momentous event. The case of Palawan is different, the expedition stayed for almost 66 days, yet it is not manifested in the historical consciousness of the Palaweños. The main reason for this huge historical gap is that previous studies were not able to identify sites visited by the route,” Doblado narrated in his journal.
The Palawan leg
After that fateful Battle of Mactan, remnants of Magellan’s crew, which is now headed by Juan Sebastian Elcano, sailed out to regroup and search for food supplies.
It would still take them time to reach Palawan, though, as they drifted down to the southern part of the country.
“They went further down south to Bohol and then rounded Mindanao and to Zamboanga. Then when they reached Cagayan de Tawi-tawi, they were directed westward by natives of the place,” Doblado narrated.
It is at this point, that they were brought by the winds to Palawan.
Tagbanua resistance in Aborlan
After crisscrossing the islands of Mindanao, the expedition tried to sail up north but found its way somewhere near the middle eastern part of Palawan where they were to make their first landing in the old Aborlan town.
But their attempt to reach soil was hampered by what could be described as a reminiscence of the Battle of Mactan, as they were met with resistance by the natives, particularly the Tagbanuas and Pala’wans.
“The first encounter with local inhabitants were probably with the Tagbanuas of Aborlan. An abrupt event occurred because, having prepared and launched the smaller boats to gather supplies, they were attacked by the natives with “arrows of cane hardened in the fire” and forcibly driven away from the shore,” the journal states.
Doblado elaborated that while it was unclear at first, he later found out that the hostile welcome was caused by fears among natives that the unknown guests were pirates who continually abuse and exploit them and pillage their supplies, and even capture some of their members to be sold as slaves.
He further explained that the arrival of the voyage coincided with the southwest monsoon or Habagat, the same period when Moro pirates would stage an attack in the village.
“The Spaniards, having prepared their boats to secure supplies in unfamiliar territory, were armed to defend themselves. Approaching the shores of Aborlan, projectiles of spearlike weapons made of cane sharpened and hardened by fire were hurled at them. The attacking natives mistook them for a group of Moros because of the way the landing team would have looked like as they attempted to land armed and scouting the surroundings,” he said.
Further research and analysis later showed that the first anchorage was in Sitio Marikit, Barangay San Juan where now stands facing the Sulu Sea, the marker that signifies the place’s historical significance, the first of four in the province, unveiled last September 22.
Surprise Portuguese-speaking host
Failing to resupply, the expedition tried to go up north to continue their search but winds and tides prevented them and instead, pushed them down south.
In his position paper, Doblado said presented two landing sites – in the towns of Sofronio Española and Brooke’s Point, stating that both have places called Sitio Tagusao.
“But the committee did not agree stating that Española and Brooke’s Point are one and the same because the places are very adjacent and contiguous,” Doblado stated.
“And another thing is that Sitio Tagusao in Española is located in Pulot Interior (which is at the foot of the mountains, way far from the shore), so the more logical place is the one in Brooke’s Point which is fronting the bay and beside a river,” he added.
But a more significant turn of event was that when the crew was on their way to the shores, there was no resistance this time, and much to their surprise, they were met and greeted by a Portuguese-speaking native.
The leader of the tribe, thinking that the ships were carrying Portuguese people sent Bastiam, who had been to Maluku (Moluccas), to ask for passports and flags and to collect tax payments.
“He was fluent in Portuguese, which was not surprising because the Maluku, down south of Mindanao in present-day Indonesia, was a possession of Portugal since 1514. The mere presence of Bastiam was proof of how connected Palawan to the vastness of Southeast Asia prior to Magellan’s arrival,” Escalante explained in his messages during the unveiling in Aborlan which was delivered by Doblado.
The island of Balabac was not among the places to be visited, as, according to Doblado, it was only used as some sort of a guide by the pilot for the expedition. “It was like the crew were thinking that once they saw Balabac, they knew that they are already headed right to Borneo and upon return, it was also the same guide they used to identify that they are already going towards (mainland) Palawan,” Doblado said.
But while it was not really a point of destination for the expedition, the main Balabac Island has been a constant natural guide for ships passing the area.
“Balabac Island has played a big role in the history, since the time that the Spaniards arrived here until the 2nd world war,” Balabac Mayor Shuaib Astami said during the unveiling last October 12.
“The history of Balabac cannot simply be denied by anybody because of the strategic passage here. From east to west, ships are passing here, until now,” he added.
And as fate would have it, Balabac was lucky to have been included in the landings as while the expedition was on its way to Buliluyan, one of the ships ran aground in a reef, so they were forced to stop and drop anchor there to fix the grounded ship.
True enough, as if to serve as a reminder, the marker in Balabac was installed on top of a hill beside a lighthouse, doubling as a guide to sea farers.
Last stop – Buliluyan
Because there were not enough materials for the repair, once the ship was hauled out of the reef, the expedition immediately proceeded to Buliluyan making it the fourth landing area.
There, they stayed for several days to fully fix the grounded ship and to once again replenish their supply of foods before heading out to other places again.
With the unveiling of the historical markers and subsequent turn-over to the municipalities, the third of which was in Sitio Tagusao, Brgy. Barong-barong in the town of Brooke’s Point last October 19, local government officials have begun to craft plans for tourism related development purposes.
The Brooke’s Point unveiling was led by 2nd District Representative Cyrille Abueg-Zaldivar who was requested by Doblado to represent the NHCP, acting Mayor Gerojalyn Quiachon-Abarca members of the Sangguniang Bayan and barangay officials.
Zaldivar also led the signing of the Certificate of Transfer of the marker to the Local Government Unit (LGU).
Meanwhile, Brooke’s Point Municipal Tourism Officer Arlene Piramide said the marker will serve as a reminder to the people of Brooke’s Point that the town, particularly Sitio Tagusao is part of a great history where the Magellan-Elcano voyage once dropped by.
“We will truly treasure this. We thank the NHCP all everybody who contributed to the study to make our place part of a great history,” Piramide said.
In Aborlan, Mayor Celsa Adier expressed confidence that the historical marker in Sitio Marikit will boost the town’s tourism industry.
She added that she has instructed the town’s Municipal Tourism Office (MTO) as well as the Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) to establish agro-tourism projects in Brgy. San Juan to help the community with the expected influx of tourists in the area where the historical marker was installed.
“For sure, this landmark will bring more potential to our tourism industry. And with that attraction, people in the surrounding community will get a chance to have additional income,” Adier said.
For Balabac, Municipal Tourism Officer Danny Harani said the historical marker would have been a great boost to the town’s budding economy if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aside from being a historical place, the hill where the marker now stands will soon be developed into a view deck.
“That’s why this marker which now serves as a reminder, maybe in the coming days when this pandemic is over, tourists will flock here,” Astami said.
The Buliluyan marker which is set to be unveiled on November 9, is also another added feature for Bataraza’s tourism and economy. It was supposed to be unveiled on October 28 but was put to a later date because of unforeseen events.
Buliluyan, being at the southern-most tip of the province is the gateway to Balabac. It also plays an important role for the province in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East-Asia Growth Area (BIMP-AEAGA), being in a strategic location for the region, where a Roll on Roll off (RoRo) port is now established.
A look back at the changing course of history
Escalante in one of his messages said, remembering history is part of a growing and process of how events evolved as time goes.
“We remember the events from 500 years ago not because we are happy about the arrival of Magellan or of Spain. This might be true 100 years ago when they celebrated the “400 years of the discovery of the Philippines,” but not in our time. We have struggled to free ourselves physically from foreign control, which we did 75 years ago,” he stated.
“Part of it is to take control of our own destiny, destination, and history. We have begun seeing our past from our own perspective since the time of Jose Rizal. Combatting myths and misconceptions that our ancestors were savages and barbaric upon the arrival of the Spaniards is a long, long way to go but we have to begin it now by presenting the Filipino way—not the Spanish, European or Western way—of reading our own history this 500 years milestones,” he added.
A study in progress
While his research on the Magellan-Elcano expedition may have been completed, Doblado said they still plan to write a book to spice up discussions on its Palawan leg, and conduct further studies about other cultural and historical events and places in the province.
“The PSC, being a member of the Local Historical Committees Network of NHCP will conduct further research on other possible cultural and historical events and places. We will also coordinate with different LGUs for possible requirements of establishing more historical markers,” he said. “If I may be able to obtain more research, we can still apply for additional markers,” he added.
He also said PSC dreams of Palaweños becoming more active in studying its local history stressing out that local historians and researchers from towns to barangays are encouraged.
As Escalante said, the celebration today differs from that of 100 years ago, so is history. For history may or may not repeat itself, it can also rewrite its course, as it has been done today, with the inclusion of Palawan in the route of the Magellan-Elcano expedition. (with reports from Rachel Ganancial and Ruil Alabi)