It is rare that the study of history makes a difference, but it did in the case of the Balangiga Bells. The town, and its bells, have been part of my life for a quarter of a century and the work that I and Rolando Borrinaga put into establishing the real history of what happened played a role in the education program launched by US Veterans to get the bells returned.
Although my role was modest it is, nevertheless, one I am quite proud of.
The bells were returned to Balangiga on 15 December 2018. Sadly, I could not be there to greet them but I did get to see and touch them for my birthday two weeks later.
It was, for me, a moving and emotional moment as you can see below.
One comment on a Facebook thread in 2021 referred to “…Magellan who Lighted the Dark Medieval Flat mind of Ignorance & Superstition…”, a statement which shows that the myth that Magellan proved the Earth was round and that the common belief that in the ‘Dark Ages’ there was a common belief that the Earth was flat, is still in circulation.
Not only did Magellan ‘prove’ nothing of the sort, the Dark Ages of myth never existed and were an invention of 17th and 18th century writers. How did these myths arise?
It widely assumed, wrongly, that present day humans are more intelligent and resourceful than their ancestors of thousands of years ago. It is the sort of thinking that Erik Von Daniken depended upon for his popular books about aliens building the Egyptian pyramids, and which still produces fanciful History Channel series like Ancient Aliens.
In 1523, Peter Martyr d’Anghiera wrote to Pope Adrian VI, the first non-Italian pope and the only one until the election of John Paul II in 1985, about the Magellan-Elcano Expedition, properly called the Armada de Malucco. He had been chaplain to the court of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, and was a historian of Spanish explorations, who became a member of Emperor Charles V’s Council of the Indies in 1518.
In his letter, he says: “Let us now try to explain how the Spaniards have completed the circuit of the globe, for the fact is difficult to believe. There, however, one proof: let Your Holiness have a terrestrial sphere marked with the different continents brought…” and proceeded to describe the journey of the Magellan expedition.
His surprise at the success of the journey had nothing to do with the shape of the Earth but the surmounting of the great odds against the success of the expedition.
There was no question that time that the Earth was considered a globe, and not a shred of evidence that any significant number of people believed to the contrary. The oldest terrestrial sphere in existence dates from 1492 and may have inspired the first expedition of Columbus that year. Maps of the period clearly show the lines of latitude and longitude, the latter curved to represent the spherical shape of the Earth.
At the time of writing celebrations are underway to commemorate the first circumnavigation of the world by the Elcano-Magellan expedition. That remarkable, courageous endeavour was a success, it repaid its investors handsomely, laid the foundation for the Manila-Acapulco galleons which inaugurated truly global trade for the first time, linking Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia.
And, of course, the Spanish occupation of the archipelago later to be named after Felipe, prince of Asturias, later the King of Spain and, for a brief four year period King of England, co-ruling with Mary Tudor until her death in 1558.
It is also the 500th anniversary of the victory of Lapulapu, the chief of Mactan, against Magellan’s forces.
In the predominantly Catholic Philippines the event is also being celebrated as the planting of Christianity with the first Easter Sunday Mass on 31 March 1521, and thereby hangs a tale, or at least many questions. First instance, why First Easter Sunday Mass?
Oplan Merdeka was the failed attempt by the disgraced President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines to conduct a terrorist campaign on the state of Sabah in the 1960s. It was a project that would have pitched the Philippines not just against Malaysia, but also Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. It was a foolhardy effort and Malaysia and its allies had seen off an attempted Communist takeover in the Malayan Emergency and an invasion by Indonesia during the Konfrontazi.
The scheme was shattered by the massacre of Muslims on Corregidor who were recruited to terrorise Sabah, known as the Jabidah Massacre. While revisionists like the notorious Roberto D. Tiglao of the pro-Marcos Manila Times claim the whole thing to be a hoax, the evidence for it is solid.
There were brief flash reports on radio broadcasts but the story was suppressed early enough to keep it out of print media. The incident became common knowledge. The suppressed story broke through when Senator Ninoy Aquino, former journalist, gave a privilege speech in the Senate.
After the embarrassing incident on Corregidor, there was a secret court martial of those involved, blood-money was paid to the families of those who were executed, and the prosecutor in that case is still alive.
The video below has technical issues, for which I apologise, but it demolishes the claim that the massacre never happened.
Not many people know that Tinikling1, the bamboo dance often considered the national dance of the Philippines, can be performed to the tune of Queen’s We Will Rock You2. Far fewer know its origins – in fact, nobody really seems to know, and what we do ‘know’ may be very wrong.
Which is the sort of challenge that sends the cold, wet noses of history bloodhounds quivering.
I had not thought much about Tinikling over my three decades in the Philippines, it was just there, part of the cultural background that surrounded me. You’ll find a link to a video below so I will not describe the dance itself here.
All I seemed to find in netsurfing was that it is a mimetic dance: The dancers imitate the movements of the Tikling Bird as it hops among rice stalks and evades bamboo traps set by farmers. It is variously said to have been introduced during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines in either Pampanga or Leyte3. Some of the more confusing versions have it as being both pre-Hispanic and of the Spanish era. The dance only seems to have surfaced during the American occupation of the Philippines as part of physical education.
The first mention of the dance I have found is in The Philippines progressive music series for the primary grades , compiled by Norberto Romualdez, et al. published in 1914, where it is creditted to Samar-Leyte and includes lyrics.
The BBC has an excellent radio documentary on how these things happen, how they affect national identity, how they corrupt our knowledge of the past, and the dangers that it brings, including death threats to historians themselves.
Update 21 September 2020: Despite claims made on social media there is still no evidence that FAI has been approved, or undergoing clinical trial, or being legally used anywhere.
: 8 June 2020. Social media posts claim that the Indonesian health authorities had agreed to conduct clinical trials on Fabunan Antiviral Injection. The claims appear only from know promoters of FAI. Despite the importance of such a move, if true, it remains unconfirmed by medical news and information outlets, the WHO database of ongoing Covid-19 measures, Indonesian media, Philippine media or any reliable source. Given the track record of misinformation by FAI promoters (Such as claims that the Philippine FDA had approved FAI), we catalogue the claim as dubious.Clinical trials must be registered, yet no such trial can be found on clinical trial databases such as centerwatch.com or clinicaltrials.gov.Update: 31 May. Malacanang corrects false information regarding FAI.
Important update: 27 May: The Fabunan Medical Clinic has closed.
Update, 24 May, 2020: The Philippine FDA has issued a cease-and-desist order, DoH is ‘working up a case’ against Dr Willie Fabunan. Here for more information.
New information is emerging on the Fabunan claims which are now being verified. Updates will be made as these are checked.
Corrections of factual errors are welcome in the comments section, which is moderated.
Right now, things are little different from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic which killed up.to 18 million people, according to some estimates. Many of the rumoured ‘cures’ have re-emerged in the Covid-19 crisis. You’ll find some familiar claims in this recording.
The case of the Fabunan patented jollop raises a number of red-flags suggesting that a patented mixture of painkiller and a steroid for treating Covid-19, Fabunan Antiviral Injection, is, prehaps less than is claimed for it. It is not encouraging that development was led by an accupuncturist, Willie Fabunan.
Maritime history nerds will know the name Kaiulani , an historically important vessel which met a sad end on the bottom of Cavite harbour in the 1960s. Not only is she part of maritime history, but the diplomatic history of the Philippines and the United States, too, involving a gift to the United States by the government of the Philippines which might have led to international friction between the two countries.
Kaiulani was the last steel-hulled square-rigged clipper built in the United States, launched in 1899. It was the only one of 17,000 such ships to be built in the country, known to have survived, or would have been had it ended its days. as intended, on Maine Street Avenue Dock in Washington DC. She symbolises the close of the age of sail for American merchant shipping and plans were made to make her the cornerstone of the American bicentennial in 1976.
The best-laid plans oft go astray, and so it was with Kaiulani.