The Truth about the Battle of Mactan

The Truth about the Battle of Mactan

Our ancestors did not easily accept the Magellan-Elcano expedition. Through the ritual called Sandugo (blood compact), our ancestors tested the sincerity of the friendship the foreigners were offering. Antonio Pigafetta, Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler, recorded the term for it as casi-casi when Magellan and the rajah of Limasawa met on 28 March 1521. Part of sealing the friendship was the rajah of Limasawa’s giving of provisions to Magellan’s crew and in return, the ruler received garments and a Turkish cap from Magellan. (Photo: Herbert S. Pinpino’s Blood Compact Reimagined, the grand prize winner of the Quincentennial Art Competition in 2020/Courtesy of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines)

There are no extraordinary men . . . just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men

are forced to deal with.

— William Halsey

BEFORE we proceed to our topic for today, let me first congratulate multi-award-winning filmmaker Lavrente ‘Lav’ Diaz on making his first foray into the small screen.

Yours truly had once brushed elbows with the film virtuoso as he was formerly the entertainment editor of People’s Taliba when I was still trying to barge in the Journal Group of Publications as a news correspondent. Back then, I was a struggling writer and I had to make both ends meet with the little income I received from odd jobs and some articles I wrote. So I asked Lav to give me a chance—and he did!

But going back to his latest endeavor, his upcoming eight-episode television series is said to be based on newly minted National Artist for Literature Ricky Lee’s short story ‘Servando Magdamag’. Aside from this, the TV series, which will stream later this year on iWantTFC, is also based on the same material as Diaz’s latest film ‘Isang Salaysay ng Karahasang Pilipino’, which will be making its premiere at the 33rd International Film Festival Marseille in France next month.

ONE of the most persistent narratives in our country’s history is the death of the Portuguese Spanish conquistador Fernão de Magalhães, or Ferdinand Magellan, by the hand (or kampilan) of our so-called first Filipino hero Lapu-Lapu at the battle of Mactan Island.
For most, it’s a glorious tale of action and heroism that depicts the warrior spirit and patriotic love of the Mactan chieftain for his Motherland.

But not so true . . .

So we ask, why do we Filipinos see the bloody battle where Magellan was slain as a ‘patriotic act’ when the truth is that the Portuguese adventurer-turned-Spanish conqueror was merely told by then Rajah Humabon of Cebu to fight and defeat his rival in Mactan?

The probable answer to this query is that the Battle of Mactan has been for a long time depicted incorrectly throughout our history lessons—it was wrongly viewed as a battle of independence against the colonizers, but in actual fact is grossly overrated or mislabeled.

The truth is that Ferdinand Magellan and his team were not actual colonizers looking for land where they could plant the Spanish flag to signify its colonization. They were navigators and the purpose of their expedition was to discover new lands in the Orient and report them to the King of Spain. They were composed of a company of 70 men and a few galleons. They were armed with metal armor, a few swords, and primitive guns known as the blunderbuss.

The year that Magellan and his fleet sailed to the islands was 1521. Rapid-fire pistols were not yet invented and the guns that they’re carrying will take a few minutes before a second shot can be fired. Their ships were also carrying precious stones and metals that they brought to the chieftains of certain villages as a token of friendship.

On the other hand, the so-named Mactan chieftain known as Lapu-Lapu is actually not a Cebuano or Visayan. There are historical accounts that often identify the chieftain, or datu, as a Visayan warrior who defended Mactan Island from a foreign invasion but what historians don’t realize is the fact that the natives of Mactan were descended from the Orang Laut, a fierce, warlike tribe residing in the high seas of Borneo.

This is the primary reason why Lapu-Lapu refused to pay tribute to Humabon because he did not owe fealty nor servitude to the celebrated Rajah of Sugbu, which is the native name of Cebu. Moreover, if Lapu-Lapu had indeed been Cebuano or Visayan, then he and his island would have automatically been subjected to pay tribute to Humabon. And since at the time had its own tribe and ruling chief, it was only natural for Lapu-Lapu to bow down to the Rajah of Sugbu.

Therefore, with these points clearly spelled out, then the mythical battle of Mactan that saw Magellan slain happened not because of patriotism but because of the rivalry between Humabon and Lapu-Lapu. It did not occur because of a Filipino versus Spaniard kind of thing but rather a result of having two chiefs, who were bitter enemies, vying for supremacy of the islands.

When Ferdinand Magellan arrived at Cebu, he and his crew were warmly welcomed by the Sugbuanos and many agreed to be baptized as Roman Catholics. They also accepted the Spaniards’ offer to make the Rajahnate of Cebu a Spanish vassal in exchange for their protection and friendship.

Rajah Humabon then decided to send his ambassadors to Mactan, because he expected Lapu-Lapu to be convinced easily into turning his chiefdom into a Spanish vassal state as well. But the chief furiously resisted the offer, threatening that he would destroy Humabon’s sovereignty over Sugbu. That was the start of their hostilities and the Spanish navigators unknowingly involved themselves in a vengeful conflict between the two principalities (Cebu and Mactan).

Finally, the battle that was said to have been fought on the shores of Mactan was so much in favor of the native warriors led by their chief. The Mactanons had at least 1,500 warriors armed with sharp swords known as kampilans, bronze-headed spears, poisoned-tipped arrows, and a few lantakas or brass cannons. Compared to them, the Spanish navigators consisted of a small infantry of motley armed men that numbered about 70.

Thus the battle ended in the total annihilation of the Spanish force, though supported by hundreds of Humabon’s Sugbuan warriors. In the aftermath of the bloody encounter, only 20 Spaniards escaped.

FOR your comments or suggestions, complaints or requests, just send a message through my email or text me at cellphone numbers 09054292382 for Globe subscribers and 09391252568 for Smart. Thank you and Mabuhay!


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