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500th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan

AS a nation, Filipinos love to celebrate defeats and tragedies. Our historical calendar is replete with grievous events that are marked red in our history such as the Fall of Bataan, the Battle of Tirad Pass, the execution of Jose P. Rizal and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. Truly, they are significant and it would be ignoble to relegate them to the dustbin of history since they depict the true meaning and measure of their greatness. However, we should draw greater inspiration from triumphs and accomplishments that bring pride to our race. For instance, there is pure honor and joy when we observe the Philippine Independence Day, the Battle of Leyte and the Edsa Revolution. Victories uplift our spirits and ennoble our nationhood.

One major historical event that every Filipino should recall and rescue from oblivion is the Battle of Mactan, which took place exactly 500 years ago today. We are celebrating today the quincentennial victory of Lapulapu over a foreign power that invaded our shores. It is one glorious battle, which our ancestor won even before the birth of our nation. It is historic not only as it marked our triumph over the future colonizers but also it was a momentous part in the first circumnavigation of the world. It demonstrated the gallantry and bravery of our ancestors and their love for freedom. Their valor and independent spirit signaled a dire warning to the whole world that: “Ne’er shall invaders trample thy sacred shores.”

The unprecedented act of courage of Lapulapu and his men is most worthy of remembrance. While other chieftains had submitted to the will of, and paid tributes to, the conquistadores, Lapulapu and his valiant warriors resisted and fought the invaders. Under Republic Act 10086, “Strengthening Peoples’ Nationalism Through Philippine History Act,” the State “shall provide the means to strengthen peoples’ nationalism, love of country, respect for its heroes and pride for the people’s accomplishments by reinforcing the importance of Philippine national and local history in daily life…” In this light, Senator Richard J. Gordon had filed Senate Resolution 652 on February 15, 2021 “expressing the sense of the Senate of the Philippines in acknowledging Lapulapu as a sentinel of freedom who courageously fought to protect his native land and led the victory at Mactan during the first circumnavigation of the world.” Quoting the work of Jose Amiel Angeles, “The Battle of Mactan and the Indigenous Discourse on War,” published in Philippine Studies Vol. 55, No.1 (2007), Senator Gordon cited Lapulapu’s bold courage and leadership. “To protect his land and his people, Lapulapu and his men attacked Ferdinand Magellan’s troops with a heavy barrage of ranged weapons, consisting of arrows, iron-tipped ‘bamboo’ throwing spears…, fire-hardened sticks, and even stones. They surrounded Magellan’s landing party, attacking from the front and both flanks. The heavy armor of the Spaniards largely protected them from this barrage, inflicting only a handful of fatalities on the Europeans, but it was heavily demoralizing to the troops. In the end, Magellan’s musketeers and crossbowmen were no match to Lapulapu’s strong will, conviction, and love for independence.”

The victory at the Battle of Mactan is a great story worth telling and retelling. Not through the maudlin song of Yoyoy Villame but the authentic narrative of a historian who has done a thorough study and research on the subject. This is what RA 10086 mandates: to develop genuine appreciation of our heroes by “raising social consciousness, reinvigorating government support for historical research, and sustaining and enhancing programs for the protection, preservation and conservation of historical relics and memorabilia, monuments, sites and other historical resources.”

Thus, it is only proper and fitting that we commemorate our victory at the Battle of Mactan and honor the audacity and heroism of Lapulapu and his men. RA 11040, otherwise known as “Lapulapu Day,” was enacted declaring April 27 each year as a special working public holiday throughout the Philippines and a special non-working holiday in Lapulapu City. This is the least we can do to consecrate a man who undauntedly went to war and displayed indomitable courage to defeat a superior foe. In the process, Lapulapu had served notice to the whole world that our territories were not up for grabs by any foreign imperialist. And he did not need a UN Arbitral Tribunal Award to do that.

Lapulapu is more than just a fish delicacy that we feast on the table; he is a national hero who belongs in the pantheon of great men. We are grateful to Senator Gordon and his colleagues in rightfully acknowledging Lapulapu as “a Sentinel of Freedom and as a role model of chivalry and patriotism for the youth of today and tomorrow.”

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There are many noble and great deeds that transpire each day in our midst. The medical frontliners who attend to their work unmindful of the grave risks which they confront; the community pantry organizers who go about feeding the hungry despite the red-tagging and intimidation that they face; and many workers in the government and private sectors who expose themselves to the contagious virus by physically reporting to work and meeting various stakeholders to perform their duties. In our own little way, even before the community pantries became a trend, we have provided free lunch or merienda to the garbage collectors who collect our trash every Monday, and relief bags of basic commodities to our driver, househelps, some village maintenance laborers and former household workers who have kept in touch with us. We treasure their services to us and the community, and every little act of courage should not pass unnoticed if we want to be worthy of their struggles and sacrifices.

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