The Light that Gave Life to Magellan-Elcano Expedition

Posted on 16 March 2021
By Rene R. Escalante, Ph.D.

When the National Quincentennial Committee had its inaugural meeting in Baler, Aurora on June 29, 2018, we already envisioned the marking of the sites associated with the first circumnavigation of the world in the Philippines. There were already existing studies and literature determining the places in the country visited by the Magellan-Elcano expedition, but most of these were written by foreigners who were not really familiar with the Philippine geography. The result? Varying versions of the map were produced. Nevertheless, we still owe these scholars and historians the foundations of studying the route of the first circumnavigation of the world in the Philippines. I know, we will face the same scrutiny in the future, as the study of Philippine history enriches and develops. What the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the National Quincentennial Committee have done today is to continue laying the foundations for future studies and to ignite interest among our young and future historians and scholars.

But this generation will not let the once-in-a-lifetime quincentennial pass. Despite the pandemic, which causes a major setback to the NQC, we persevered to mark the thirty-four sites in the Visayas, Palawan, and Mindanao along the historic route of the first circumnavigation of the world. We want our countrymen to appreciate this achievement of humanity and science as part of their story as a Filipino—far from what we had been taught in school back then as the beginning of Philippine history. The year 1521 in Philippine History is just a window for us to appreciate the world of our ancestors and to be excited about what lies beyond the pre-colonial Philippines. Yet, at the same time, let us be reminded of the lessons and examples from 1521. Nothing to be disowned but to own. Nothing to be ashamed of but to take pride in. Nothing to antagonize but to synergize. Let the quincentennial reminds us all, Filipinos, that we are a triumphant and compassionate people, just like our ancestors recorded in 1521.

In a moment, we will unveil the historical marker for Suluan, the island where the first circumnavigators had anchored. This very island was the homeland of the first among our ancestors to meet these circumnavigators—starving, undernourished, stricken by scurvy, almost hopeless after traversing the vast Pacific for almost four months. Just like the meaning of “Suluan” in Waray language as “light,” the island served as the light that gave life to Magellan and the rest of their crew to continue the journey.

Dr. Rene R. Escalante is the Chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the concurrent Executive Director of the National Quincentennial Committee. His message was delivered during the unveiling of the Suluan Quincentennial Historical Marker, Suluan Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar, 16 March 2021

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