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Araw ng Kagitingan: A relevant date

By KIDLAT TAHIMIK, The Philippine STAR Published May 23, 2022 5:00 am

Consider the possibility of moving our Independence Day to April 12, 1895 — when Andres Bonifacio scribbled “Viva La Independencia Filipinas” at Pamitinan Cave (Montalban). That suggestion came from Ambeth Ocampo, my favorite historian (after Yoyoy Villame, siyempre!)

Ambeth takes a second (or probably third?) look at that overlooked date after President Diosdado Macapagal moved Araw ng Kalayaan to June 12, 1898 (dumping the July 4, 1946 “Independence Day” first chosen by our colonizer, USA).

Thanks to never-ending re-valuations by historians, forgotten dates get rescued from the trashbin of history. Re-contextualizing old data, debunking hand-me-down history (written by our colonizers) is why we need continually to ukay-ukay history.

Let’s look at another national holiday we celebrated recently: Araw ng Kagitingan. Yearly we celebrate April 9, marking the Fall of Bataan. Yes, let’s honor the bravery of our aging veterans — with monuments and parades, and supporting their fight for veterans’ back pay. (After all, didn’t General MacArthur brag, “Give me 10,000 Filipino soldiers and I can win any battle”?) Kadakilang walang ka-pantay.

Fight for whose Freedom?

But weren’t they fighting a war of our colonizers (or for the hubris of their generals)? We didn’t just inherit Yankee culture (salamat sa Benevolent Assimilation); we also inherited the enemies they created as an emerging world power. Alliances with the US continue — SEATO, VFA, APEC — call it by any other name: TNgA (Tuta Ng America) or more gracefully, BFFngA — damay ang Pinoy sa rambol ni big brother Rambo.

The symbolism of April 9, 1942 fails in comparison with that of April 27, 1521. It remains very much a colonial holiday. Why highlight the Fall of Bataan rather than the victorious indios bravos at Mactan? The victory over Magellan’s technological might (cannons, armor and Toledo-forged swords) was sobrang klaro!

An old painting of the Battle of Mactan showing Lapu-Lapu attacking Ferdinand Magellan.

Tagumpay sa Mactan! Recorded for posterity by an enemy scribe, Antonio Pigafetta, writing the diary of the voyage. He acknowledges objectively the Spanish retreat —while subjectively lamenting the tragic loss of Magellan (“Our mirror, our light, our guide”). Yes, even Ukraine’s battle of Mariupol will be recorded either as a glorious victory or butcherous bullying — depending on who hired the cameras on the battlefield.

Hasty Retreat, Hazy Details

Pigafetta’s memory failed to publish many details. Remember, his hand-written manuscripts were left behind with King Carlos I in Villadolid (who favored the chauvinistic accounts of Sebastian ElCano). Pigafetta reconstructed his memoirs in Italy — published three years later as The First Voyage Around the World. The book often betrays the compassionate and artistic curiosity of Pigafetta. Strict historians zero in on his infatuation with Magellan. For his romantic journals (aka un-academic), one can admire his subjectivity when he zooms in on the local culinary taste, native words of anatomical parts, and sympathetic insights into lifestyles of “others.”

Allow this artist, reviewing the finale at Mactan, to add “observations.” Not to rival Pigafetta’s first-person accounts, but as a hindsight framer. Five hundred years later, I would dare to include some oral traditions from the folklore of Cebuanos today: Our POV.

Pigafetta, like on-the-spot reporters in Ukraine, easily recalled quantitative details: like “49 Spaniards” wading ashore to face “1,500 angry warriors.” (Wow pare, dehado kami!) His framings also provide dramatic details: how Magellan, wounded by a poisoned arrow, ordering a retreat, valiantly stays behind as the rear guard —until the “savages” swarmed the helpless admiral. (Wow! epic endings à la Hollywood… kulang na lang, symphonic soundtrack.)

Aiming the Camera at Cultural Details

Understandably the retreating Pigafetta was pretty vague on the details of the final mano-mano combat. Might a chronicler (less starstruck) have recalled cultural nuances of the fight? Might he have noted the Mactan warriors, in last hand-to-hand moments, resorting to sariling-atin martial arts, pulling out their arnis sticks?

Artist/filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik at his Quincentennial installation at the Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park, Madrid last October.

Might he have noticed the tsunami of combatants included women — furiously defending their lifestyle from bearded extraterrestrials? (Trivia: My Quincentennial installation in Madrid last October 2021 depicted the 1521 Mactan scenario, wherein I included Bae Bulakna, the wife of Lapulapu swinging her arnis sticks. The conjugal pair overwhelm the armored Magellan in my version. A gender-balanced victory!)

Earlier, when Magellan ordered Mactan huts burned, might Pigafetta have observed that villagers of all ages — young maidens, kids, and even senior citizens, too frail to be frontliners in the Mactan rambol — had mobilized themselves into fire brigades (taga-igib ng tubig) to help put out the fires? Perhaps it wasn’t just macho warriors determining history?

The 1521 Mactan scenario at Madrid: Perhaps it wasn’t just macho warriors determining history?

Such details could have portrayed more of a cultural victory — if the lightning-swift arnis sticks (home-grown kali arts weapons in pre-colonial Cebu) had been picked up by Pigafetta’s camera eye.

Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang

Teka muna! Is this artist rewriting history? Okay, forget those what-might-have-been details (as Ambeth calls them). Anyway, most academics classify these digressions as “dilitantic history writing.” Or, gently relegate them as poetic license of an essentialist.

Balik sa objective pag-timbang ng April 27 vs. April 9 — bilang Araw ng Kagitingan. Palibhasa, just as the valor of the Bataan defenders is well documented, so also the Victory of Mactan is solidly recorded (although Pigafetta described the Mactanese as savages). Sobrang tapang ng freedom fighters, in both wars — all academics agree.

But let’s look at the symbolic layer: whose war was being fought? Was it our warriors fighting for our independence against colonizers? Or were soldiers fighting kapit-bisig — arm-in-arm with our colonizers, embroiled in their war?

Are we just splitting hairs? Or is it a significant POV that can tip the scales on which date to celebrate? Sariling away ba natin? O napa-subo lang sa rambol nila?

Surely, April 27 was our victory in our war, diba? April 9 was their surrender — after we risked our lives fighting their war. Malinaw ang pinaglabanan: “Sa manlulupig, di ka pasisiil”diba? So, why not move that national holiday to April 27?

A Wish for the Lapulapu Time Capsule

The Quincentennial fireworks commemorated the Victory at Mactan, our first recorded repulsion of foreign invaders. I had hoped President Du30 would declare April 27, 2021 as a national holiday (hindi lang sa Cebu). Sayang. We missed a chance to canonize Lapulapu as a nationwide bayani in the jubilee year. Pero it’s never too late.

The 501st anniversary was to be celebrated in Mactan with a time capsule laid for the Lapulapu Memorial Shrine and Museum. Expect, in 2025, a Lapulapu statue, taller than Magellan’s monument. That’s a wish Pres. Idolo-ko-si-Lapulapu Du30 expressed. Instead, a state-of-the-art bridge was unveiled.

The humble wish of this artist was simple: sana, sa loob ng time capsule, kasali isang presidential proclamation, declaring April 27 Araw ng Magiting. From an outgoing president, such a farewell salvo could have been more spectacular than all the fireworks in Ukraine. Or the Olympic pyrogenics at the Beijing Olympics, diba?

Let me dream… Maybe in 2025, during the inauguration of the Lapulapu Shrine, baka pwede pa ang April 27, 2025 maging LapuLapu National Holiday… Tuloy ang Laban ng mga Magiting sa Mactan! Sugod!