Five Inaccuracies Still Accepted as “Philippine History”


Some time ago I watched a local documentary that dramatized Ferdinand Magellan’s visit to Mactan Island in 1521. Most Filipinos are aware of the events here: Mactan’s chieftain Lapu-Lapu kills Magellan, and the rest of the natives drive the rest of the Spanish back to their boats. What irked me however was what the actor playing Lapu-Lapu said: “Wala na ang kalaban! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” (“The enemies are no more! Long live the Philippines!”)

I cringed while watching, simply because the name “Philippines” didn’t come into existence until a few decades after Magellan’s death. Having that glaring inaccuracy in a documentary show only proves how historical knowledge isn’t really a serious concern for many Filipinos, especially those who claim to espouse “Pinoy Pride.”

Here are other common misconceptions that Filipinos need to revise.

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1- “Alibata” was the national writing script before the Spaniards arrived.
The Popular Myth: Before the Spanish conquered the Philippines, Filipinos invented “Alibata” as a way to communicate amongst each other.

The Historical Evidence: First of all it’s not supposed to be called “Alibata;” the term was imported from Arabic in 1921 because no scholar back then had decided on what to accurately call the writing script. The more accepted term nowadays is “Baybayin.” Also, though it indeed is a pre-Hispanic script, there is no historical evidence to show that Baybayin was used outside of Central Luzon and the Visayas before the Spanish arrived and tweaked the script themselves. Furthermore, Baybayin couldn’t have been considered a “national script” because there was no “nation” to speak of back then; the Philippines (before it was named that way) were a collection of perhaps dozens of separate kingdoms and tribes that had little or no mutual sense of unity with each other.

If there ever was a “national script” that the natives used before the Spanish arrived, one need not look further than the Laguna Copperplate Inscription and the Butuan Ivory Seal, artifacts which predate the emergence of Baybayin by at least 600 years. They both use a writing script called “Old Kawi,” which scholars now purport to be the ancestor of Baybayin and various other pre-Hispanic writing scripts in the Philippines. The fact that it was used almost without variation by two separate kingdoms proves that it was more widespread than Baybayin ever was before Spain arrived.

2 – On March 16, 1521, the Philippines was discovered by Magellan.
The Popular Myth: Thanks in part to Yoyoy Villame’s catchy song, many Filipinos now assume that Ferdinand Magellan came to conquer the Philippines for Spain, and he was eventually killed by Lapu-Lapu because of that same premise.

The Historical Evidence: There is now evidence to show that Magellan wasn’t even the first European to come here; though it’s not really clear who was, natives who’ve had contact with Magellan’s crew claimed that they saw “other men like them,” hinting at Portuguese merchants who may have arrived before 1521.

Magellan himself wasn’t even Spanish: he was a Portuguese merchant-navigator hired by Spain to look for an alternative sea route to Asia, because the traditional Indian Ocean route was blocked by Portugal. As for his death in the Battle of Mactan, this was brought about only because he got involved with a petty squabble between Sugbu’s king Humabon and Mactan’s chief Lapu-Lapu (who by the way was Humabon’s subject). Magellan’s corpse was never recovered and returned to Humabon as ordered; one could only assume what Lapu-Lapu’s fate was for defying a king’s order, despite the supernatural myths surrounding Lapu-Lapu’s own demise.

And no, Lapu-Lapu did NOT shout “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

3 – The Philippines was a united country when it declared independence on June 12, 1898.
The Popular Myth: After a hard-fought revolution that started with Dr. Jose Rizal’s death in 1896, the Philippines united and shook off Spanish oppression to become an independent nation. That is, until the United States showed up.

The Historical Evidence: No other sovereign state recognized Philippine independence; what the world instead recognized was the Treaty of Paris, wherein Spain sold its ever-loyal Pacific gravy boat to the United States for $20 million. Representatives of the fledgling “Philippine Republic” were refused participation in the Treaty. As for the Kawit declaration itself, documents show that a certain “Colonel Johnson” was present to observe the proceedings. Some time afterwards, to give the impression that the Philippines was being “recognized” by the United States as independent, a mock naval battle was held in Manila Bay. Not knowing that this was all an act, Filipino generals wanted in on the action and began attacking Spanish fortifications, unknowingly paving the way for the United States to plant the Star-Spangled Banner on Philippine soil (just as what the script told them to do, of course).

The Philippines itself wasn’t even united in declaring “independence” in 1898. The Negros Republic also declared itself a sovereign state separate from the Kawit declaration, as well as the Zamboanga Republic, and no one even bothered to ask the tribes of the Cordilleras if they were to be part of the republic or not. Also, although history would eventually recognize Emilio Aguinaldo as the first Philippine president, such a claim couldn’t even be decided upon by the revolutionary government itself, leading to intrigue and assassinations worthy of any Spanish imperial court.

If there was any real “Independence Day” for Filipinos, it would be July 4, 1946; a date that really was recognized the world over. Filipinos could perhaps celebrate June 12 as “National Day,” but never as the date when self-determination was assured.

4- Agapito Flores invented the fluorescent lamp.
The Popular Myth: “Pinoy Pride” was at its finest when a Filipino scientist named Agapito Flores invented a lamp that we now casually leave on 24/7 despite a looming power crisis. His name is on the thing itself!

The Historical Evidence: Alexandre Becquerel, a French physicist, came up with the concept of lights emitted from glass tubes,  and therefore can still be righteously credited for inventing something that “fluoresces,” or emits light. The patent for a tried and tested fluorescent lamp was registered in 1901 by Peter Hewitt in the United States. Agapito Flores would have had a really large brain for that kind of thing, because he was only 4 years old when the US patent came into existence. To be clear, despite videos that still spread wrong information, there is no concrete evidence to prove that Agapito Flores invented anything.

Besides, doesn’t “Flores” mean “flowers” in Spanish?

5 – The 1986 EDSA Revolution was “bloodless.”
The Popular Myth: Despite the threat of tanks and air bombardment, the 1986 ouster of Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was peaceful, and the intercession of the Virgin Mary made sure that no one was killed that week.

The Historical Evidence: This whole Marcos-Aquino EDSA revolt thing is a classic example of the adage that history is written by the victors. First of all, I often hear people mention about the “twenty years of Marcos’s iron-fisted dictatorship.” Undoubtedly there were many horrible things that happened during the years of Martial Law, but let’s also take into consideration that Marcos was elected by legitimate popular vote in 1965 and again in 1969. Even after Martial Law was declared in 1972, it didn’t last all the way until 1986: Proclamation 1081 was lifted in 1981, just before Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines for the first time.

And the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino II? People still claim that Marcos ordered it. If so, then why is it that after two generations of Aquinos and an EDSA military rebel leader ascending into full presidential terms (for a total of 18 years, excluding the 12 total years of the Estrada and Arroyo terms), no one can still come up with evidence for such?

As for the events on EDSA itself, sure, there was no one who died during the mass organization, but you can’t call any revolution “peaceful” if you have tear gas blowing in your face. Furthermore, having to say that the 1986 coup against President Marcos was “without any deaths” may have to be called into question. Part of the chronology of EDSA shows that at 11:30 pm on February 25, when the looting of Malacanan Palace began in earnest after the Marcoses fled, “an unidentified student from Philippine Marine Institute was reported killed inside the [Administration] building.” This event perhaps would lead Gen. Fidel Ramos to eventually say “We really did not expect to achieve our objectives in such a short period and almost without bloodshed.” This could perhaps imply that, after the main antagonists had exited, the student was killed by the good guys.