EXPLAINER: The importance of celebrating PH’s role in historic Magellan–Elcano circumnavigation

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 13 2021 04:59 AM

MANILA—Next week marks the start of major activities celebrating the Philippine segment of the circumnavigation of the world, as part of the Quincentennial Commemorations in the country.

At the time this story was posted, the Spanish training ship Juan Sebastián Elcano was on its way to the Philippines to join the commemoration of the Magellan-Elcano expedition that made the first circumnavigation of the world possible 500 years ago.

The ship will arrive on March 16, Tuesday, and will be in Suluan and Homonhon Islands until March 18 and later in Cebu on March 20 to 22, tracing the very places where the 16th century expedition landed and made first contact.

“I have to say that human contact was very fruitful especially for the Spanish because the Filipino sailors that came with their bancas, they helped the Spanish, sailors who were starving after this incredible sailing through the Pacific Ocean,” Spanish Ambassador Jorge Moragas said. 


“So there was the first human touch that’s very fruitful and that showed the humanity, solidarity, and friendship of the Filipino people. So we want to underline and stress that part of the history as well.”

EXPLAINER: The importance of celebrating PH’s role in historic Magellan–Elcano circumnavigation 1
Spanish Ambassador to Philippines Jorge Moragas.

At the same time, President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to lead the unveiling of a historical marker in Guiuan town, the first of more than 30 historical markers signifying places linked to the Magellan-Elcano expedition and the country’s part in the first circumnavigation, described as an “achievement of humankind and science.”

“Sa pagdiriwang na ito na gaganapin sa Samar, ipapakita po natin ang mahalagang naging ambag ng mga Pilipino sa first circumnavigation of the world,” said Rene Escalante, chairman of the National Historical Commission and vice chair of the National Quincentennial Committee tasked to be the principal coordinator for all the activities related to the 2021 quincentennial commemorations.

“Kung atin pong maalala, noong dumating po sa ating bansa itong mga miyembro ng Magellan-Elcano expedition, karamihan po sa kanila ay may sakit, ang iba po talaga ay halos mamatay na sa gutom dahil sa napakahabang biyahe nila sa Pasipiko. 

"So ang ginawa po ng ating mga kababayan, sila po ay kinupkop, pinakain at binigyan ng lugar para sila ay makapagpahinga. Marami ang nasasabi na kung hostile po ang naging attitude ng mga Pilipino at di sila tinulungan, maaaring hindi po sila nakabalik sa Espanya.”

Colonial literature scholar and professor Jorge Mojarro points out that the expedition’s nature was to engage in commerce, not to colonize: its purpose was to reach the Moluccas or Spice Islands to trade spices, based on the instruction issued by the Spanish king.

The Magellan-Elcano expedition was crucial, as it pointed to other future expeditions the route to the Philippines.

Mojarro edited “More Hispanic Than We Admit 3,” a collection of essays published by Vibal Foundation Inc. to mark the quincentennial.

EXPLAINER: The importance of celebrating PH’s role in historic Magellan–Elcano circumnavigation 2
More Than Hispanic Than We Admit 3 is a collection of essays to mark the quincentennial.

“It had significance in the history of people, in the history of humankind. It was a technological achievement. After that circumnavigation, there was no turning back. For the Philippines, specifically, once the Philippines entered in contact with the West and the Western countries knew where to locate the Philippines, the history of the archipelago changed completely,” Mojarro said in an interview with ABS-CBN.

“I mean we cannot talk about Philippines as a nation until colonization happened. Before that there was nothing called Philippines, the Philippines was, let’s say, an accident of Iberian imperialism, in its roots at the beginning.”

On March 31, the first Easter Sunday mass in Limasawa town in the Diocese of Maasin in Southern, Leyte, will be commemorated with the Papal Nuncio as guest of honor.

The first baptism in Cebu will be commemorated on April 14 and the victory in Mactan on April 27.

Historian and renowned Magellan scholar Danilo Gerona underscored the importance of these events in shaping the course of history.

“This is a big event for the Philippines, big event because it is the turning point of Philippine history with the coming of Spain, whether Spain gave us trouble, it gave us a lot of pain, as some people complained. But then, we cannot deny that it gave a certain culture which paved the way to what we are today, a religion,” Gerona told ABS-CBN. 

“Spain actually also generated resistance, nationalism, Rizal. But then you have to understand nationalism is conceived right in the womb of colonialism. In the history of the Philippines, you cannot divorce colonialism with nationalism. That’s a matter of fact. 

“No matter how we wish we would be free forever and we ever went through the harrowing experience of colonialism but historical fact says it happened and therefore we have to accept that and understand our history within that particular context,” added Gerona, who wrote the book “Ferdinand Magellan: The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines,” a study based on primary sources.

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The book "Ferdinand Magellan: The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines" was authored by Gerona.

The government-led celebrations adopted the theme “Victory and Humanity” with the logo of the National Quincentennial Committee featuring the cross to symbolize Christianity, waves for the circumnavigation, and an image of Lapu-Lapu.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, meanwhile, is leading the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines.

Its logo features the cross, an image of the first baptism, fish to symbolize Christ, beads of the Holy Rosary, the hovering color of blue for the Holy Spirit, and bold, accented brown lines to symbolize the hand of God.

The theme of the Church’s celebration is “Gifted to Give.” 

“Binigyan tayo ng biyaya ng Panginoon, nagkaroon tayo ng pananampalataya but we are also called, we are also responsible to share this faith with others. Kaya nga if received that faith 500 years ago, dapat din natin ipamigay din ito, ipamahagi din sa iba,” said Msgr. Bernard Pantin, Secretary General of the CBCP.

On Sunday, March 14, Pope Francis will lead a mass at Saint Peters’ Basilica in Vatican to celebrate 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines.


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