The untold story of ‘Araw ng Maynila’
- Carmen Guerrero Nakpil () - June 15, 2008 - 12:00am

For the last 50 years, the City of Manila has been glad-handing, brass-banding, speechifying and merry-making on the 24th of June as Araw ng Maynila or its Foundation Day. The reason is that on that same day in 1571, Legaspi established a municipal council in what is now Intramuros. The impression on Filipinos and foreigners alike is that a lordly, Spanish conquistador founded the city of 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 to civilization by a European.

The mostly untold true facts follow (see Tome Pires, Pigafetta, Majul, W.H. Scott and Gaspar de San Agustin):

1. The natives of the island of Luzon, including Batangas, Bulacan, Pampanga were traders, investors, mercenaries, seafarers called Luzones, operating in the commerce triangle of Southeast Asia between Canton, Malacca and Timor, as early as the 14th century. They owned ships, underwrote large-scale export ventures, and were called “discoverers”, for their sea-faring skills. They probably taught the vaunted Spanish explorer, Urdaneta, his skills in negotiating the China Sea. As warriors, “the most warlike and valiant in these parts”, the Luzones fought in Malacca, the Batak-Menangkabaw army, in Ayuthia under the command of a Filipino called Sapetu Diraja. Notable Luzones included Regimo and Surya Diraja were magnates and plantation owners, selling shares in their gold, sandalwood and cotton exports to illiterate Portuguese in Malacca.

2. The chief city in Luzon was Maynila located at the mouth of the Pasig River, ruled by 3 Muslim kinglets: Ache (or Raha Matanda) a grandson of Sultan Bolkiah of Borneo, Raha Sulayman, Ache’s nephew, and Raha Lakandula of Tondo. There were local Taga-ilog chieftains, the datu of surrounding fiefdoms.

3. “The town all around this bay”, says a Spanish chronicle quoted by O.D. Corpus in The Roots of the Filipino Nation, “was really marvelous. It was tilled and cultivated. The slopes were smooth. So excellent indications have not been seen in this land. The town was situated on the bank of the river, defended by a palisade. Within were many warriors and the shore outside was crowded with many people. Pieces of artillery stood at the gates, guarded by bombardiers, linstock in hand.” Mention was made of 40 neighboring villages, 4 Chinese trading junks in the harbor, 40 married Chinese couples and 20 Japanese.

4. As Legaspi’s shipmaster, Martin de Goiti, attacked Maynila with 120 Spanish soldiers and 300 Cebuano allies in May 1570, but Raha Sulayman routed them with his bronze cannon and poisoned arrows, and de Goiti withdrew, via Cavite and Mindoro to the Spanish headquarters at Cebu. The next year, in June 1571, the Spanish tried again. This time the Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legaspi came himself, with 3 more ships sent as reinforcements from Mexico. He sent a gift to Raha Matanda and sought a conciliatory audience with Sulayman but another force of Tagalog gathered at the estero of Bankusay in Tondo and engaged the Spanish armada. The day went to the superior firepower of the Spanish because Sulayman’s foundry, warehouses and armory had been reduced to ashes, some documents say by the Cebuanos, others by Sulayman himself.

5. After winning a battle over an estero, Legaspi claimed conquest and Spanish sovereignty over the city of Maynila, the island of Luzon and the entire archipelago, naming them “The New Castilla” and bestowing a city charter with municipal councilors, a plan for a plaza, two grand houses and 150 smaller houses and a project for the distribution of land. All of this was unilateral paperwork in a foreign European language which no one else understood or attested, because he continued to recognize Sulayman and Lakandula as Lords and Masters of Maynila and Tondo. Every so often a fleet of Tagalog datus would come sailing down the river in long boats to challenge the Spanish garrison which had to depend for its meals on the Chinese or the Tagalog.

These were the conditions in Maynila on 24 June 1571. Knowing them, would anyone venture to say that this was the day life began for Manila and the Manilans?

This year a better perspective will endow Araw ng Maynila, one closer to historical truths. A parade of Filipino Muslims, in their traditional garb of malong and veils for the women, and pants, jackets and kris for the men will march together from the mosque in Quiapo to the tip of Fort Santiago, the site of Sulayman’s palisaded palace. It will be joined by school youth dressed in Tagalog finery of the period to represent the datu and the Tagalog population. The highest-ranking Filipino Muslim, Adel Tamano, president of the Pamantasan ng Maynila will preside over the ceremonies and speak on the historical background of Araw ng Maynila. A flower wreath will then be laid on the grave of the Adelantado Legaspi in San Agustin church in remembrance of his role in the development of Manila. At the end, we should all feel better and be much less ignorant.

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