Water Connects Us More Than Divides Us

Posted on 25 March 2021
By Usec. Anthony Gerard Gonzales

At this time, another unveiling of the historical marker is taking place there in Gibusong, an island in the Province of Dinagat Islands. Maybe you are puzzled how come there are two historical markers being unveiled on the same day. To answer this, one must exercise his or her familiarity with the geography of Surigao Strait and the positions of the islands.

OPAV Usec. Anthony Gerard Gonzales standing as witness in the turn over ceremony of the historical marker of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to the Municipality of Hinunangan, Southern Leyte.

History happens unconscious of space. And this was true 500 years ago, when the Magellan-Elcano expedition—the first to circle planet Earth for the first time—entered Surigao Strait from the Pacific on March 25, 1521, in search of the Maluku Archipelago, popularly known as the Spice Islands during our Hekasi or Araling Panlipunan years.

People of Hinunangan, you are fortunate, for your very town was mentioned as early as 1521 through the story of the first circumnavigation of the world by Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of the expedition. Along with Gibusong, Hinunangan guided the clueless Magellan-Elcano expedition in the Philippine waters. Clueless because these places were not present in the available maps in Europe. But don’t be confused—this deficiency of European maps is not tantamount to the non-existence of the territories of our ancestors, like Gibusong and Hinunangan. It does not also follow that the unfamiliarity of Magellan to these places meant our ancestors were nothing but savages before 1521. Centuries before Magellan arrived, this area of Surigao Strait had a bustling civilization concentrated in Butuan. Notwithstanding the Chinese annals and the priceless archaeological finds like the gold ornaments and the ancient colossal seacraft called balangay, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription dated AD 900 is proof that this region of Butuan-Surigao had connections with Tondo, Manila and with Medang in today’s Java, Indonesia. Hinunangan and Gibusong may belong to different political units now but they share a common historic space with Butuan which we need to imagine when we revisit the world of our ancestors before the Spaniards.

After staying in Suluan and Homonhon, both parts of Guiuan, Eastern Samar, since March 16, 1521, Magellan and his crew had to navigate the unfamiliar Surigao waters to them on March 25 to look for any clues on where the Maluku was. Because the area was not on their maps, they became dependent on Gibusong, which is visible from Suluan and Homonhon, and from there tracked the southward route and followed the coastline of Hinunangan. Technically, the expedition entrusted their fate to Gibusong and Hinunangan, but the Maluku was on the far, far another side of Mindanao. Nevertheless, fate had them continued navigating the Visayan waters—while steadily heading to northern Mindanao, their attention was caught by a fire in an island, on the evening of March 27, 1521. They approached this island named Limasawa and a whole new journey happened there between March 28 and April 4, 1521.

Today is the 10th day of the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines. Let us ponder upon the contribution of our localities in circumnavigating the planet for the first time. In reading the history of the first circumnavigation of the world, it is necessary for one to familiarize himself and herself with Philippine geography. It helps one imagine well how interconnected what seems to be divided. And do not forget: water connects us more than divides us.


Anthony Gerard Gonzales is an Undersecretary of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas and a member of the National Quincentennial Committee. He delivered this message during the unveiling of the Hinunangan quincentennial historical marker, Municipal Grounds, Hinunangan, Southern Leyte, 25 March 2021.

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