Victory in humanity

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

On March 16, 2021, and in a once in a lifetime event, we commemorate the 500 years of the first circumnavigation of the world with the Spanish Navy training ship Juan Sebastián Elcano arriving in Suluan island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. The islands of Suluan and Homonhon were as alien to me as it was for Magellan 500 years ago and as Dr. Ambeth Ocampo said, the 16th century Magellan voyage was like going into outer space.

As a young girl, I can only recall the fact that our brave hero Lapu-Lapu defeated Magellan once upon a time, and that was all there was to it. At least as a young girl, that was all I needed to remember. Most of us know so little it is no wonder that, even our own President was saddened by how our very first warrior and defender of our land has not been given the proper honor that is truly deserved.

But history, as I have learned, is also about viewpoint and the Philippines for one is a young nation with an old history and more so, as Ambeth says, an even older pre-history. The very complex story of our country can be seen through old maps and sadly, although we had map reading classes in school, we were unfortunately not taught to make the connection. The last few weeks have further ignited my love for history and culture and thanks to the man of the hour, Chairman Rene Escalante of the NHC, I now have the chance to be a better student of Philippine History.

While we all learned that Magellan found the Philippines 500 years ago, what many of us don’t know is what actually happened to him when he did. In those days, upon reaching Homonhon island, Magellan and his crew were exhausted, sick and famished – and it was a Datu with the rest of his men who came on board that welcomed them with generosity and humanity. While we often say like clockwork that Magellan discovered the Philippines, we Filipinos can now begin our re-learning by asking in turn, what happened next and what did our forefathers do? Well, on our end, this was what we Filipinos did – we saved a devastated crew and provided them nourishment and strength to embark on their journey.

Magellan anchored on an island without a hostile reception and this, as I have learned, is a powerful language of kindness that goes a long way. Certainly, it is an accomplishment of humanity which is far from what we have been taught in school. There is significance in the islands despite its isolation, as Mayor Annaliza Kwan explains, and the islands served as the light to the life that Magellan needed in order to pursue his expedition.

As the Italian explorer Antonio Pigafetta recounted, there were nine men on a boat and the Chief went to the Captain General giving signs of joy and what happened next serves as the heart of what we are celebrating in this present moment. The historical marker in Suluan is a monument of humanity – a test of 500 years of joy and kindness especially in a pandemic, bringing with us the lessons we have learned and the friendship which has conspired us to be here today... together. This is what the Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Jorge Moragas Sanchez always tells me and this he continues to impart with the rest of the Filipino people he meets as after all, he too shares our Filipino heritage, with his mother having been born in Baguio.

In 1521, as DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana explained in his message, the Elcano fleet for humanity ushered in a global exchange of cultures, goods and beliefs. Our notable Filipino hospitality was both a great relief and an answered prayer as humble towns showed goodwill and, at present, this is being manifested in our bilateral modernization efforts between the Philippines and Spain which must include openness, compassion and dialogue. Panagtawo, as the people of Eastern Samar call it, means humanity and 500 years ago, we, the Filipino people, demonstrated our victory in humanity.

It is time we re-learn what we have been taught in school. It is time and, as Jose Rizal says, that we enter the future with a memory of the past together with the understanding that the oceans should connect us instead of separate us. More importantly, and just like what happened to those on board the Elcano, it is in the most unexpected of ways, in the most desperate of occasions, that a force so basic, a gesture so simple, was indeed most magnanimous in every way which we now ought to recognize as the light that brings life for all of our journeys.

Mabuhay mga kababayan and to our Spanish brothers and sisters, welcome... Bienvenido.


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