Gossip from a colonial grapevine
- Carmen Guerrero Nakpil () - June 29, 2008 - 12:00am

It’s nice to find out that the reason we are called “Filipinos” was not greed or religion, but something less impressive: one man’s cowardice.  Self-respecting nations in our region have appropriately ethnic names like Thai, Malays or Indonesians. But we have been tarred with a sobriquet — “Filipinos” — that makes strangers think we must be a rock band from Costa Rica.

The name of the culprit was Ruy Lopez de Villalobos. (His crime is still recorded on the signposts that bear his name on a street in Quiapo.) He was a government official who, like our modern mediocrities, tried to make up for his failures by currying favor with the offspring of his principals.  (Think of congressmen and Rep. Mikey Arroyo).

Villalobos took off from Navidad, Mexico in November 1542, with official instructions to colonize, Christianize and set up trade with the Western Islands in the Pacific. His was a mission unaccomplished. He did see some islands on the navigational charts that looked familiar. But wait a minute: Wasn’t that where Magallanes was slaughtered by treacherous native savages two decades earlier? He turned tail and took it upon himself to give the islands that someone else (Magellan) had found, and still someone else (Legaspi) would later conquer the name “Filipinas” in honor of the Spanish Crown Prince.

Don Felipe became Philip II, who inherited from his father, King Carlos (or Charles), an empire “on which the sun never set.” (It was the Spaniards, not the English, who coined that dubious, vainglorious phrase.) It included Hapsburg Germany, the French Comte, Milan, Naples, Sicily, Spain with its colonies in North, Central and South America, and our archipelago in the China Sea.

Our country was first named “St. Lazarus” by Magellan, and renamed later “Nueva Castilla” by Legaspi, but Villalobos’s craven choice, “Filipinas,” stuck in the minds of the Spanish court. What was Don Felipe, Philip II, our namesake, like?

In this youth, he was described as, “slender, elegant and good-looking.” After all, he was the grandson of the smashingly handsome Philip I, a.k.a. Felipe el Hermoso, who was so gorgeous that when he died suddenly at age 28, his besotted queen, Juana, went out of her mind and was forever afterwards called “Juana La Loca.” Historians like to say that she refused to have his cadaver taken from her bedside and kept him there unburied “for years.” (But surely the court  must have embalmed him while she slept?)

A side story to this royal insanity is that when Magellan baptized Humabon’s wife in Cebu in 1521, he gave the “Queen of Cebu” the name of “Juana” in honor of the unfortunate grandmother of Philip II, Juana La Loca, a.k.a. in English history as Joanna the Mad. Fortunately, the Cebuanos did not know that little detail of their brief alliance with Magellan, or they would have planned the massacre earlier.

Another gossipy vignette about Magellan’s tragic end in Mactan at the hands of our ferocious first hero, Lapu-Lapu, is that neither that original, decisive, armed rejection of foreign rule by a native Filipino nor, for that matter, the untimely demise of the greatest European explorer on our shores in the Battle of Mactan, would have happened if not for a quite common problem among in-laws or people related by marriage or affinity who cannot stand each other.

The historical background of that significant battle was simply that Lapu-Lapu was married to the sister of a rival chieftain, also from Mactan called Sula, whom he detested. They ruled contiguous halves of the small island and were always at odds. The coming of the five sensationally mysterious black ships, armed with cannons and guns, manned by white, helmeted, bearded strangers never before seen in their island-homes, and what to do about them, made matters worse for the two warring chieftains and brothers-in-law.

Their common ally, Humabon of Cebu, chose to befriend the strangers. He extended the hospitality of his house and his women-folk, eating and drinking together, exchanging gifts and palaver through their interpreter, none other than the returning OFW, Enrique.

When Magellan, having planted the Christian cross on high ground, began to baptize the chieftains and their followers, Sula joined the new Christians, but Lapu-Lapu, outraged and indignant, refused. On Easter morning, when Magellan, in a triumphalist role, dressed all in white, with steel corselet and plumed helmet, staged his religious pageant of mass baptisms and submission to a new Spanish sovereignty, he announced that if there were any other chieftains who were still holding back, they would have to answer to him. Sula lost no time in denouncing his tiresome brother-in-law and  Magellan ordered the torching of Lapu-Lapu’s village.  Lapu-Lapu had issued a challenge the Spaniard could not resist: Come and get me. My bamboo lances have been hardened by fire. The battle was joined. Sula, the new favorite, received a gift of a long boat for 30 warriors. And Magellan was defeated and killed.

But back to gossipy history about Philip II, our national ninong.  Like his much-married second father-in-law, Henry VIII, he had multiple wives through serial brides, four of them, none of which he had to decapitate. He must have bored them to death. His first wife was his cousin Marie of Portugal. His second, Mary Tudor, the ugly Spanish mestiza, daughter of Henry VIII and his Spanish first wife, the “Bloody Mary” of English history. Philip was actually also King of England during that marriage for he was “joint sovereign.” His third wife was Elizabeth of Valois, daughter of Henry II of France; and his fourth, another cousin, Princess Anna of Austria.

Between marriages, he also wooed unsuccessfully Queen Elizabeth I of England, the half-sister of his second wife. What if she had agreed to marry him? Would we, as a Spanish colony, have known Shakespeare’s marvelous plays earlier? Fat chance. Philip II was hard to like, “an extreme introvert, austere, humorless,” a religious fanatic and workaholic. As a rejected suitor and evangelist of Counter-Reformation, he sent an armada to England. It sank during a storm.

Philip II always wore black and seldom left his gloomy palace. The English called him “the Spider of the Escorial.” He almost bankrupted his empire, so that Spain “was poorer at his death than at his birth.” The same thing could have been said of colonial Filipinas. Centuries later, our next colonizer became William McKinley, who probably never read history books, for he tried to “Christianize and civilize” us all over again, undoing Philip II’s centuries-old mission. In the lottery of colonial history we always seem to have drawn the booby prize.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with