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Historians, scholars debunk Sen. Go's claim that Lapulapu was a Tausug

By Max Limpag and Bim Santos Published Apr 28, 2021 7:20 pm

On the 500th year of the Victory at Mactan won by the warriors led by Lapulapu, Senator Bong Go told those gathered for the official commemoration that the warrior long held with pride by locals as one of their own was actually a Tausug from Mindanao.

“Batay sa isang bersyon ng kasaysayan na pag-aaral ng dalubhasang si Abraham Idjirani, ang dating East King of Sulu na siyang nagbabantay sa 707 islands sa buong Pilipinas ay nag-utos kay Lapulapu na magmasid kung bakit may mga dayuhan na dumaong sa ilang isla natin, kasama na ang Mactan,” Go said.

"Mula sa Sulu, nagsama ng maraming mandirigma ang Tausug na si Lapulapu sakay ng bangka, sinalubong sila ng mga tauhan ni Ferdinand Magellan at naganap ang Battle of Mactan, kung saan namatay si Magellan, at itinanghal na bayani si Lapulapu dahil sa pagtatanggol niya sa isla ng Pilipinas. Kabahagi ang mga taga-Mindanao sa tagumpay,” the senator said during his speech at the 500th year commemoration of the Victory at Mactan at the Liberty Shrine, near where historians said the actual battle happened.

Sen. Bong Go at the National 500th anniversary celebration at Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu. (Joy Torrejos/The Freeman)

The claim, which though has been made by some in the past, nevertheless scandalized a number of scholars, Cebuanons and non-Cebuanons alike.

Unfounded claim
Dr. Jobers Bersales, director of the University of San Carlos Museum, said Go should fire his speech writer, apologize, and then work to fund research on history and archeology.

“He can't be a Muslim because it is clear that Visayas and Cebu was full of people that were tattoed, mangaon og baboy (who ate pork) and that Muslims were having a hard time making inroads in conversion here because of those practices,” he said.

Why don't we just accept the fact that we know very little of Lapulapu and stop building all kinds of ideas about who he was? Any other claims thereafter are speculations.

Bersales said  that Go’s statement was an “embarrassment” based on an unfounded claim.

If Lapulapu were a Muslim, he would have stood out differently from Humabon and the rest of Cebu and would have been mentioned by Antonio Pigafetta, Bersales said. 

“We’re talking biography, why don't we just accept the fact that we know very little of Lapulapu and stop building all kinds of ideas about who he was,” Bersales said. “Any other claims thereafter are speculations. Stop these versions which are not based on history. They are imaginations.”

Academic discussion
PhilSTAR L!fe reached out to the office of Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Ahong Chan and was told that the mayor would be issuing a statement, but not today. Lapu-Lapu City officials, including Chan, criticized the rapper Ez Mil for a historical inaccuracy in his song “Panalo,” which included the line “pinugutan si Lapu sa Mactan.” There were calls for the rapper to be declared persona non grata and officials demanded that he apologize. The rapper later issued an apology.

Cebu City Vice Mayor Michael Rama said he was amused by what he heard during the speech. Rama said he would not quarrel on the roots of Lapulapu, as what is important is that he is a symbol of pride for Cebu and the rest of the country.

He said he hoped the controversy over Go’s remarks would spur academic discussions by scholars on the issue.

Reading culture
But Bersales said the controversy is a symptom of the lack of knowledge in the country.

“This is the problem in the Philippines, we do not have a reading culture,” said Bersales.

Bersales suggested an aggressive campaign to counter the disinformation by popularizing research-driven mainstream history, with the National Quincentennial Commission helping lead the way, with the support of Go.

No evidence
Nestor Castro, an anthropology professor from the University of the Philippines Diliman, also dismissed the claim as a lie.

They just want to give importance to Mindanao and not Cebu, obviously to glorify the President from Mindanao.

“Bong Go or his source doesn’t have any evidence. They just want to give importance to Mindanao and not Cebu, obviously to glorify the President from Mindanao,” said Castro.

“Why is Bong Go spreading the lie that Lapulapu is a Tausug from Sulu? This is part of the Duterte narrative that Mindanao is more important than Visayas and Luzon and that Duterte is the new Lapulapu. Historical revisionism indeed.”

Moro consciousness
Jeffrey Asuncion, an assistant professor teaching Philippine history at UP Los Baños, said that the scarcity of information about Lapulapu’s origins and background made the hero open to reinterpretation.

In the highly fictional book “Lapulapu: The Conqueror of Magellan” by Cebuano writer Vicente Gullas, National Artist Resil B. Mojares ascribed Mindanaoan claims to Lapulapu’s heritage “with the rise of Bangsa Moro consciousness.”

Dr. Mojares cited the 2008 fiction novel “Kris of Justice” by Abdel Tillah as saying that according to Sulu histories, Lapulapu was “a Muslim Tausug by ancestry.”

The chances of Lapulapu's reportedly non-Cebuano origins standing up to scrutiny are very low.

But Asuncion said such claims have little evidence to stand on.

“The chances of Lapulapu's reportedly non-Cebuano origins standing up to scrutiny are very low. The proponents have not forwarded  convincing evidence to support their claims,” said Asuncion.

Not a historian
Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona, who has written one of the definitive accounts on Magellan, is one of the country’s foremost experts on Spanish colonial history. Gerona said it should be noted that the “Tausug” claim came from a senator, not a historian.

“Bong Go is not a historian, he is speaking as a senator, and also courting certain favors from certain people. It was not a statement of a historian so it should not be taken as a statement of academic fact,” Gerona said.

Gerona said that the recorded history regarding the Battle of Mactan was based mainly on the diary of the Venetian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta. But aside from Pigafetta’s journal, there were also stories from survivor accounts, specifically the eight Spaniards who survived the battle, were imprisoned, and sold off as slaves, as well as the recollection from the surviving crew of Trinidad, Magellan’s flagship that was captured in Moluccas, which is now part of Indonesia. All of which did not mention that Lapulapu was a “Tausug” or a Moor, a term used by Christian Europeans then to refer to Muslims.

If Lapulapu were a Muslim, he would stuck out like a sore thumb in the community and would have most probably merited a characterization in Pigafetta’s journal and other survivor accounts.

“I would say that is not true,” said Gerona on the claim that Lapulapu was a Tausug. “All available primary documents are pointing to the fact that he is not a Muslim.”

Confusion
Though members of the academe know what’s true and not, Gerona said Go’s statement may sow confusion among the public.

“May possibility na tanggapin ‘yan outright ng tao kasi senador yun so itong revisionist historical claims could only lead to confusion sa public,” said Gerona.

Hangga’t mababaw ang ating kamalayang pangkasaysayan at hangga’t patuloy tayong nagbubulag-bulagan at tikom-bibig sa pang-aabusong ito ng kasaysayan, hindi tayo uunlad bilang isang bayan.

Jely Galang, an assistant history professor at the University of the Philippines, also debunked Go’s claim.

“Ang talumpati ni Bong Go kahapon ay halimbawa ng walang pakundangang pagbaluktot sa kasaysayan maisulong lamang ang interes pampulitika ng ilang mga nasa posisyon,” Galang said.

“Hangga’t mababaw ang ating kamalayang pangkasaysayan at hangga’t patuloy tayong nagbubulag-bulagan at tikom-bibig sa pang-aabusong ito ng kasaysayan, hindi tayo uunlad bilang isang bayan.” 

PhilSTAR L!fe reached out to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Quincentennial Committee, but both have not responded with any comment as of press time.