A Promise to Magellan

Posted on 04 April 2021
By Anthony Gerard Gonzales

On this day, exactly 500 years ago, a promise had been fulfilled: and that promise was for Colambu, the rajah of Limasawa, to guide the Magellan-Elcano expedition to Cebu. After days of waiting for some provision, the expedition headed north of Limasawa and followed the coast of Ceylon or Seilani. Historians agree that this Ceylon or Seilani was no other than but Leyte, because there is no logical landmass north of Limasawa other than the island of Leyte. Historian Rolando Borrinaga has this beautiful theory why Leyte could have been called Ceylon or Seilani. He said it could be from the Waray word silong or the lower ground of a typical balay where chickens, goats, and other kinds of stuff are located. Maybe you will ask me what is the logical reason for having such a theory? It is because the alternative historical name for Samar, the big island north of Leyte, was Ibabaw, and it literally means ‘top’ or ‘upper.’ Most likely, our pre-colonial Waray ancestors imagined their area like a balay with an upper floor, which was Samar, and a ground lower ground, which was Leyte.

Now, let us imagine the route of the expedition from Limasawa: opposite the island is the present-day town of Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte, which has been the gateway of Limasawa to the mainland, vice versa. From Padre Burgos, the expedition followed the coastline of Macrohon and Maasin City, both are in today’s Southern Leyte, and continued all the way to Hindang, Leyte Province where they made a westward pivot to Cebu via Gatighan Island, approximately the Himokilan Islet of Hindang town.

Unfortunately, the expedition did not spend time visiting mainland Leyte because after loading enough provisions in Cebu, Magellan would like to proceed to the Maluku. But as we already know, Magellan will die at Mactan on April 27, 1521, never to fulfill his mission; while his remaining crew will reach the Maluku only in November 1521. And all these will happen because of the stories about Cebu which Colambu told Magellan while atop the highest peak of Limasawa on March 31, 1521, the day of the earliest recorded Christian mass in the Philippines.

To help us imagine the story of the Philippine part of the first circumnavigation of the world, 500 years ago, the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC), in partnership with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), erected 34 memorials with historical markers along the route of the Magellan-Elcano expedition. And one of them is this one about Leyte island, the 7th in the series. You might be wondering why in all places the NQC and NHCP chose Maasin. Indeed, what we are marking is the island—but Maasin was chosen for the symbolic reason that it is the immediate capital city of the closet historical spaced being described in the records of the Magellan-Elcano expedition. Therefore, this marker here in Maasin is being shared by the people of Leyte—be it the Province of Southern Leyte or the Province of Leyte, more so by the towns the Magellan-Elcano expedition literally passed by: from Padres Burgos to Hindang. I enjoin the Department of Tourism and the Department of Education that whenever you promote the quincentennial historical marker for Leyte at Maasin, ensure that tourists and students imagine the historical space rather than just Maasin only.

On behalf of the NQC, I would like to acknowledge the support of our fellow committee member, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, for almost a year of coordinating with various local government units via its regional offices, just for these quincentennial historical markers reach their respective sites in time for the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines. May I also extend the same gratitude to the City Government of Maasin and the Provincial Government of Southern Leyte for ensuring that this quincentennial historical marker will have its proper site and will be unveiled right on this day, the 500th anniversary of the Leyte part in the first circumnavigation of the world.

Last but not the least, the NQC warmly expresses its utmost thanks to the very dedicated and hands-on DOT Regional Director Karen Tiopes who steered the quincentennial milestones in the Eastern Visayas. We still have three more historical markers to unveil before the Eastern Visayas’ role in the quincentennial finally concludes on April 5.


Anthony Gerard Gonzales is an Undersecretary of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas and a member of the National Quincentennial Committee. Speech delivered during the unveiling of the quincentennial historical marker for Leyte, Maasin City, Southern Leyte, 4 April 2021.

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