Monday, January 26, 2009

Magellan Beach, ...I Mean, LapuLapu Beach.

A week ago today (Sunday) we returned from an outreach to Cebu. Our entire office (the three of us) went to offer our services and advice with veteran’s affairs to the local veteran and dependent population under the auspices of our qualifications and experience as volunteers in a local VSO (veterans service organization). While there, we took the opportunity to check out a few of the sites in Cebu City and on Mactan Island.

One of the first things I noticed was all the little white sedan taxis. They are everywhere. I loved two things about these ubiquitous little “go vehicles:” the cost to get anywhere in them is cheap, and their drivers don’t seem intent on ripping you off. Even when we made a deal off the meter to have one stay with us for three or so hours at a whack, the most we had to pay for such a thing was between 15 and 20 dollars; and, being from Angeles City, (a place where taxis are pretty much only available within the confines of The Clark Economic Zone) I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it’s actually cheaper to get somewhere in the Cebu City area by a clean air-conditioned Cebu taxi using the meter than it is to get virtually anywhere here within “The City of Angels” in an uncomfortab
ly cramped trike.

About the only downside to the Cebu taxis is also the thing kind of interesting about them. Most of them have been modified with an LPG package to run on that much cheaper kind of fuel. So, if you need to put luggage in the trunk you just might be out of luck. We didn’t discover this until the morning we needed to get to the consulate only to learn that our taxi’s trunk space was mostly filled with an LPG tank. Not wanting to wait around until a regular gas taxi happened by, my counterpart opted to hold a heavy boxed printer on his lap for the half hour it took to get there. We should have just taken two taxis, but he didn’t realize how painful that box was going to become sitting across his knees by the time we got there. Shame on me, I remember thinking, ‘Well, better him than me!’ The poor guy; good thing he’s made of sterner stuff than I am these days.

It’s been since 1985 since I’ve been to Cebu. During my short return visit there last week, I wanted to see the four things of interest that have stuck in my mind since all that time ago: 1) Magellan’s death site, which is a beachside memorial on the island of Mactan, and 2) also on Mactan, one of the guitar factories that that island is known for worldwide, and 3) Fort San Pedro over in Cebu City proper, and finally 4) also in Cebu City, the reliquary monument supposedly containing a piece of the original Magellan's Cross. This post will only be mostly about the national memorial to the chieftain LapuLapu, and the Spanish explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, killed by the former in April of 1521, with more to follo
w on the rest of our Cebu trip in future posts.

Unluckily, on the day we happened to go to “Lapu Lapu Beach,” or “Magellan Beach,” if you prefer, a typhoon was passing by close enough to reach out and touch us with a few of its outer windy rain bands. But that’s okay; we were still able to take it in before the really hard rain kept us trapped under the makeshift tarps at the site’s row of T-shirt and seashell shops.

Who knows if the site of the memorial is the exact spot where Magellan’s quest to circumnavigate the globe ended abruptly with his death here in the Philippines at the approximate half-way point (one of his lieutenants took over and actually made it the rest of the way around back to Spain). Chances are it’s not the exact same spot, nevertheless we do know that it took place on a beach on that part of Mactan; so it’s close enough.

I do know that it must be the traditionally accepted site since the oldest m
onument onsite is a stone block obelisk put up by the Spanish. I say evidently since the placard date is during the time of Spanish rule and the language on it is Spanish. One side states, “A Hernando De Magallanes,” with “Glorias Espanolas,” and “1866 Reinando Ysabel II” on the other sides. So, that particular monument is for the memory of Magellan to the Glory of Spain dedicated in 1866 during the reign of Queen Isabel the Second.

Notice that there is no mention of LapuLapu, the datu (chieftain) whose men famously killed Magellan. Based on what I know of colonial Spain I’m sure that the great notoriety and status now given to this pugnacious tribal chief was not in place until after the Spanish eviction in 1898.

On the other hand however, over in the more modern pavilion devoted to LapuLapu, with its mural of “The Battle of Mactan,”there is plenty of acclaim to this kampilan wielding killer of Magellan. I got a kick out of the inscription, the part that goes, “…Thus, LapuLapu became the first Filipino to have repelled European aggression.” Not trying to be too flippant, it should also say “and the last Filipino to do so,” since once the Spaniards got their footho
ld under Legaspi they were here to stay until the Americans finally did the actual repelling some 377 years later.

Interestingly, the story is told by the Italian Pigafetta, a follower of Magellan, and a survivor of the battle, that the only reason Magellan got into it against LapuLapu in the first place was at the behest of the rajah of Cebu, Humabon, who asked his new friend and supposedly militarily powerful ally, Magellan, to go over and settle the score once and for all with his old rival LapuLapu. Magellan made three classic errors: 1) getting involved in a fight that was not his, 2) underestimating his opponent, and 3) lack of good pre-battle intelligence.

There is a greater than life statue of LapuLapu facing the beach. When I showed him to the kids they all laughed at the close up shot of his backside, which seems to show him wearing an equally oversized diaper. I explained that it was actually a loincloth, but they insisted it was a diaper. Kids!

I gave LapuLapu some thought as I inspected his massive statuary physique and it occurred to me that if not for the fact that he killed a famous Portuguese explorer, chances are, no one would have ever heard of the guy. In effect, he is who he killed; something like the notoriety achieved by Mark David Chapman, the guy who killed John Lenin.

As for the memorial site itself, unless my mind plays tricks on me, it doesn’t look the same as I remember it from when I last saw it 24 years ago. Back then, I don’t believe the pavilion was up yet; all I remember is the big statue of LapuLapu and the Magellan obelisk.

I definitely like the improved garden aspect of it. There was little of that before and now it’s quite extensive. I saw three or four gardeners busily pruning, cultivating and snipping. Looking around the place though; if I’d been in charge, I would have had that crew pick up all the rubbish mucking up the place before allowing them to snip away at the grass and shrubs. Priorities dang it! For some reason the sight of trash
on the ground doesn’t seem intrusive to the folks in these parts. It drives me nuts; I can’t stand the sight of litter in an otherwise beautiful place. (sigh)

Another change is that an open view of the sea is no longer possible. This is because of the presence of a line of mangrove trees parallel to the beach that prevents all sight of the Camotes Sea. I’m pretty sure I could see the open water before. Chances are, they planted the mangroves to preserve the beach from storm erosion. The problem with that is that the beach no longer resembles the battle site, and being a purist when it comes to history, of course I’m going to complain about stuff like that.

Have you noticed I tend to be critical? Can’t help it; it’s my nature.

Here are all my photos from the memorial site on my flickr site.


Anonymous said...

Loved your a historical analysis...hilarious, droll and kurmudgeony and insightful...all at the same time. You should market yourself, darlin'.
still in SA but I had wanted to see if you had emailed back.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Chuckle. Can you believe I had to look up the word "droll?" I'll email ya right now. I thought I 'd answered all yours...

Ed said...

Ever since I read a book on Magellan, I have always wanted to stop by and see that place sometime. Excellent critique of it.

Amadeo said...

Wow! How Mactan has changed. Never realized it though I did take Cathay Pacific inbound Cebu.

Even the name Mactan spells some unfamiliarity since when I was growing up in Cebu, we called that place Opon. I believe Mactan in Cebuano meant coral stone.

Anyway, I will be taking again Cathay Pacific on my return trip and may get a chance to take a little tour.

I noticed the wind in many of your pics. Must still be the aftermath of the typhoon.