Filipino Humanity in 1521 and 2021: Message for the Unveiling of Samar Quincentennial Historical Marker
Posted on 18 March 2021
By Rene R. Escalante, Ph.D.
The speech read by Usec. Jonathan C. Malaya on behalf of Dr. Rene Escalante, Executive Director, National Quincentennial Committee, during the unveiling of the Quincentennial historical marker for Samar graced by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Veteran’s Park, Ngolos, Guiuan, Eastern Samar, 18 March 2021. Watch the live coverage of the Radio-Television Malacañang here.
If they drove the newcomers away from their island or worse, if they displayed a hostile attitude towards them, the expedition might have ended in Samar and the circumnavigation of the world would not have been completed.
Let me start my message with a quotation from Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the Magellan-Elcano expedition, the one who proved that the world was indeed round. He wrote:
We ate biscuit, which was no longer biscuit, but powder of biscuits swarming with worms. We drank yellow water that had been putrid for many days. Often we ate sawdust from boards. The gums of both the lower and upper teeth of some of our men swelled so that they could not eat under any circumstances and therefore died. Had not God and His blessed mother given us so good weather we would all have died of hunger in that exceeding vast sea.
Pigafetta wrote this entry in his chronicle three weeks before they sighted the island of Samar. By the time they reached the Eastern Visayas area, I would suppose their situation was far much worse than what he described above. As we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world, I would like to ask two questions related to this big event. One, what is the contribution of our country to this achievement of humankind? Second, what is the significance of this achievement to our present generation?
With regard to the first question, allow me to continue reading Pigafetta’s account:
The captain-general, [referring to Magellan] seeing that they were reasonable men, [referring to our Waray ancestors of Guiuan], ordered food to be set before them, and gave them red caps, mirrors, combs, and bells. When they saw the captain’s courtesy, they presented fish, a jar of palm wine, bananas, and coconuts.
Pigafetta also wrote that they went ashore in Samar and rested to let their sick comrades recover from the debilitating journey. This account of Pigafetta clearly shows the generosity and magnanimity of our ancestors. I think this is the major contribution of the people of Samar to the expedition. If they drove the newcomers away from their island or worse, if they displayed a hostile attitude towards them, the expedition might have ended in Samar and the circumnavigation of the world would not have been completed.
As regards the second question, I would argue that the event we are commemorating today here in Samar is important to us, Filipinos, because it says a lot about what kind of people we are. What transpired in Samar 500 years ago clearly shows that we, Filipinos, are generous, kind-hearted, and always willing to help those who are in need, regardless of race and citizenship. This is the reason why the National Quincentennial Committee under the able leadership of Exe. Sec. Salvador Medialdea chose Humanity as one of the themes of the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines.
History is replete with episodes showing the Filipino heritage of magnanimity and compassion. We extended the same to the Chinese who fled their country during the Opium Wars and during the Cultural Revolution in China. We did the same thing to the Jewish refugees who were persecuted by the Nazis in 1939—actually one of the few countries to do so, not even the United States which was then the sovereign in the Philippines. Filipinos extended assistance also to the White Russians who fled their country during the reign of Josef Stalin in 1949—and, surprisingly, they found a new home here, in this very town of Guiuan. In the 1970’s, the Philippines also offered refugee centers to Vietnamese boatmen who left their country after the fall of Saigon. And most recently, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in a gathering of agrarian reform beneficiaries in Cotabato City last December 23, 2019, echoed the same magnanimity to the Rohingyas who are being persecuted in Myanmar and Bangladesh. He offered a safe haven to the Rohingyas and it came at a time when they were looking for a better life and peaceful living condition.
As we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world, let us once again promote the Filipino heritage of magnanimity and hospitality but mindful of our sovereignty and security. These values we are espousing this quincentennial serve as ego-booster to each and every Filipino, especially in this time of pandemic; a driver of confidence to foreign and domestic tourists to come and enjoy the beauty and heart of the Filipino; and a reminder to the whole world how compassionate we are, especially our overseas Filipino workers. We also dedicate the quincentennial to our medical front liners who offer not only their skills and knowledge in combating an invisible enemy but their heart and willingness to attend to the medical needs of our sick brothers and sisters. We also need to remind our business leaders to be extra considerate and generous to our countrymen who lost their livelihood because of the pandemic. As the theme song of the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines titled “Bagani” says, “Mandirigmang Pilipino, dakila ang lahi ko, bayaning Pilipino sa makabagong panahon.”
Thank you and Mabuhay ang sambayanang Pilipino.
Rene R. Escalante is the Chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and concurrently the Vice-Chairperson and Executive Director of the National Quincentennial Committee.