This is a story about two men. One whose love for freedom destined him to a life of greatness, while the other allowed hubris and megalomania to destroy him and everyone under his command. In Metro Manila, the former was honored with a towering monument built on a prime spot at Rizal Park facing Manila Bay; the latter got a gated community in Makati named after him that gets flooded even during minor rainstorms.
His name was Lapulapu; the son of Kusgano and Inday Puti; and grandson of a legendary powerful barangay queen, Matang Mantaunas, from which the name of the island of Mactan originated from. Lapulapuâ€™s wife Bulakana, was a beautiful princess, the daughter of Datu Sabtano. Their union produced a son, Sawili. As one of Mactanâ€™s chieftains, Lapulapuâ€™s altruistic benevolence earned him much respect and loyalty from those under his rule. His main goal as their leader was to assure his people a life of continued peace, abundance, and freedom. Their idyllic existence was threatened upon the arrival of large ships from Spain commandeered by a man with insidious intentions.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the rise of the Ottoman Turks closed the former trade routes to the East. Henceforth, Portugal and Spain produced intrepid explorers to blaze new routes across the seas. Ferdinand Magellan, a master navigator and seaman, renounced his Portuguese citizenship and went to Spain when snubbed by the Portuguese royalty. With the help of his father-in-law and some influential friends, Magellan gained an appointment at the royal court of King Charles I to unveil his bold venture to find a new route to the Moluccas. The King of Spain, impressed by Magellanâ€™s pioneering vision â€” which promised immense profit for Spain if successful â€” approved and agreed to fund what would turn out to be a voyage of great historical significance.
On March 16, 1521, three big ships under the command of Magellan reached the coast of Samar after sailing westward across the Pacific. The next day, Magellan dropped anchor at the flourishing port of Cebu, impressing its ruler, Rajah Humabon, with their huge sailing vessels and armaments. Humabon offered them bananas and fish; Magellan, in reciprocity, gave them a large wooden cross, converted them to Christianity, and took possession of their land in the name of Spain.
The nativesâ€™ willingness to comply mustâ€™ve caught Magellan by surprise; making him think he was, indeed, another Hernan Cortes who easily conquered Mexico when the natives mistook him and his men as â€œwhite gods.â€ Humabon, an important chieftain of Cebu even helped convince the other datus to do the same. But for the recalcitrant Lapulapu, Humabon sent an emissary, Zula (the other datu of Mactan) to do the talking for him. Unlike most other chieftains, Lapulapu used his intelligence well and was not so gullible as to readily concede with Humabon at all times.
Lapulapu mustâ€™ve been perplexed and asked himself why he would give up a life of freedom and abundance just to appease the audacious demand of this windswept, sun-burnt foreigner. He refused to engage in any concession with this white man. Unbeknownst to others, Lapulapu summoned his son Sawili to go to Cebu and spy on these foreign intruders. On April 26th of 1521, Zula also summoned one of his sons, but it was for the purpose of presenting Magellan with two goats and the bad news that Lapulapu refused to recognize Spanish sovereignty. Magellan was astonished, not by the two goats, but by Lapulapuâ€™s defiance and disrespect. With his ego badly bruised by a half-naked native, Magellan swore to teach this datu of Mactan a lesson.
On April 27th of 1521, at dawn, with an army of no more than 50 armor-clad Spaniards and about a thousand Cebuano warriors, Magellan, before ordering an invasion of Mactan, sent Lapulapu one final message, â€œSubmit to the King of Spain, accept Humabon as the Christian King, and pay tribute, or else face death through our guns, swords and cannons.â€
â€œBring them on, fool!â€ Lapulapu mustâ€™ve roared back in response, which couldâ€™ve only further incensed Magellan. Intoxicated by excessive pride, Magellan told Humabon and the Cebuano warriors to stay in their boats and just watch how white men fight. Unfortunately for Magellan, the tide was against them which prevented their boats from getting closer to the shore; hence, the enemy territory was out of range of their cannons. Nonetheless, Magellan was determined to confront Lapulapu and his men even if only with their handheld weapons.
Backed by at least 1,000 warriors, Lapulapu overwhelmingly outnumbered Magellan and his men. In addition, Lapulapuâ€™s son Sawili, returned beforehand from his intelligence-gathering mission in Cebu with pertinent information â€” certain weak spots in the Spaniardsâ€™ armor plates, especially at the joints of the armplates. Sawili also told his father that the Spaniards were most vulnerable in the legs, which were unprotected. Armed with this information and facing imminent invasion by the Spaniards, Lapulapuâ€™s foresight guided him to devise appropriate tactical strategies.
And so on that fateful morning of April 27th, while Magellan and his men waded across the shallow waters filled with brittle corals and mangrove roots, Lapulapu and his warriors waited patiently. When two Spaniards reached the beach and ran straight to set fire on the native huts, the defenders yelled their furious cries and charged. Arrows and spears rained on the legs of the invaders. When an arrow hit Magellanâ€™s right leg, he ordered a retreat. The Spaniards were not about to argue; they raced back to their boats. Those busily engaged in combat and overwhelmed by the sheer number of the defenders were unable to flee.
Lapulapu finally recognized the conceited captain amongst the handful of invaders left behind and approached him. He knocked his helmet off as a native warrior lunged to hurl a spear into Magellanâ€™s face, but Magellan quickly ducked and plunged his lance into the attacking native. And as he withdrew his weapon off the dead body, Lapulapu hacked his leg causing him to fall facedown. Many natives then rushed upon Magellan with swords and bamboo spears; piercing his body with ferocious intensity.
An eerie silence then engulfed the battle scene. It was all over. Humabon and his warriors were awed and dumbstruck with what they had just witnessed â€” a native datu and his men successfully defending their land against foreign invaders; preserving the freedom passed on to them by their honorable ancestors. Just before sailing back to Cebu, Humabon sent word to Lapulapu requesting for Magellanâ€™s cadaver, but Lapulapuâ€™s immediate response was, â€œWe will not give away the captainâ€™s body for all the riches in the world, because his body is the trophy of our victory against white invaders of our shore!â€
Lapulapu was to live the rest of his life as a free man. All the other chieftains including Humabon paid him with utmost respect since then. And as for the large cross which was given as a gift of Magellan to the Cebuanos, it was eventually chopped as firewood.
The letter of apology:
Towards the end of that same year, 1521, the King of Cebu received a letter from Hernan Cortes, which should have been addressed to Lapulapu instead. Ambeth Ocampo summed it up as an admission by Cortes that Magellan had, indeed, went beyond his orders and deserved his fate; blaming it on the manâ€™s egocentricity and overzealousness.
Cortes also offered a ransom to any Spanish held captive from that battle. He wrote, â€œAnd in order that you and all the other kings and signors of those districts to give you satisfaction for it, the emperor, our Lord, will be much pleased if you will deliver to the captain any of the Spaniards who are still alive in your prison. If you wish a ransom for it, he shall give it to you at your pleasure and to your satisfaction; and in addition you will receive favors from me â€¦â€
Regrettably, there were no Spanish survivors left; Lapulapu and his men sold them off as slaves to the Chinese traders.