Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Flashback

As mentioned earlier, the foothold of Spain in the Philippines is an accident in history. Ferdinand Magellan, leading an expedition of 250 men and five ships, was actually looking for the "Spice Islands, 112 where the highly profitable spice grew in abundance. He thought that these islands were in the Pacific Ocean close to America. Commissioned by King Charles I of Spain, he proceeded with his idea that the East could be reached by sailing West and, on September 20, 1519 from San Lucar, Spain, he and his crew left by cruising around the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and then West around South America through a tortuous passage bearing his name, the Strait of Magellan. For more than four months of incredible hardships, marred sometimes by mutiny and no land in sight, his only orders were: "sail," "sail," and "sail." And at last, on March 17, 1521, they sighted the island of Samar, which they named the "Archipelago of St. Lazarus"; stopped briefly at the islet of Homonhon, and then disembarked at Limasawa, another islet south of Leyte. At Limasawa, Magellan celebrated the first Catholic mass in the Philippines on March 31, 1521. From here, not long after, the conquest or conversion of the various islands was effected, except the island of Mactan under Rajah Lapu-Lapu, who chose fire and blood to abject submission. He flatly refused to give even an inch of his land or to compromise his freedom. The dispute was thus to be settled by force of arms. In the famous Battle of Mactan on April 27, 1521 the Spaniards, despite armed with muskets, crossbows, swords and body armor, were utterly routed. With his own hands, Rajah Lapu-Lapu slew Magellan.
Magellan was Portuguese by nationality. Portugal originally assigned him to India as a soldier. Accused of embezzlement during his army stint and later indicted, he left and enlisted in the Spanish navy as a mercenary. Soon enough he won the trust of his new masters and was sent to lead the expedition to locate the Spice Islands.
After the debacle at Mactan, Charles I sent three more expeditions: in 1525, 1526 and 1527, but all ended in dismal failure. Disheartened and bankrupt, Charles 1 agreed to sign the Treaty of Zaragosa on April 22,1529 with Portugal. The treaty provided, among other stipulations, that a demarcation line in the Pacific at 297.5 leagues east of the Moluccas be drawn: All lands west of the line belonged to Portugal and all those east went to Spain. With this definition, the Moluccas, which Spain sold to Portugal, and the Philippines, which Spain also claimed, both belonged to Portugal.
Again, despite this treaty, greed and faithlessness had their day in Charles 1 when, in 1542, he made a last-ditch effort to obtain a foothold in the East. He fitted an expedition under the command of Ruy de Villalobos with the specific order to establish permanent settlement in the Islas del Poniente or "Western Islands" or the Philippines. After a year of sea voyage, Villalobos, in the company of four Augustinian priests, landed on the island of Sarangani, south of Mindanao, and tried to establish a permanent footing. Because of the stiff hostilities of the Moros, in addition to the poverty of the place they were forced "to cat cats, dogs and rats, gray lizards and unknown plants" - the Spaniards hurriedly left. On the way home, Bernardo de Ia Torre, one of the crew, while passing by the islands of Samar-Leyte, gave to these islands the name Filipinas in honor of Philip, then the Spanish crown prince and later, King Philip 11, who succeeded Charles I. The name was later applied to the entire archipelago, hence, its present form Philippines.
In 1556, Philip II ascended the throne and made it an official policy to colonize the Philippines. In November 1564, the expedition under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi left Mexico. Accompanying him as chief adviser and navigator was Fray Andres de Urdaneta, a scholar priest and veteran of the previous Loaysa Expedition. Appraised of the mission, Urdaneta objected because the Zaragosa Treaty was still in effect. But there was nothing he could do: first, they were already in the high seas, and second, Legaspi ignored his advice anyway. The King ordered Legaspi to proceed to the Philippines and to make it a permanent colony of Spain. On April 27,1565 the Spaniards landed in Panay, and from there they wrested all the islands, one after the other, from the various local chieftains. After securing all these areas, Legaspi sent Captain Martin de Goiti to Luzon where a fortified town called Manila was located.

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