The Contribution of Jose E. Marco to the Quincentennial of the First Mass in the Philippines

Until 1934 there was no question that, setting aside a probable undocumented Mass onboard ship when the Armada de Malluco of Ferdinand Magellan and Sebastian Elcano anchored off Homohon Island on the pointy end of South East Samar on March 16, 1521, the first Catholic  Mass on Philippine soil took place at Mazaua on March 31 that year, Easter Sunday ship time. However, in the August, 1934 edition of Philippine Magazine, Percy A. Hill, an associated of eminent peopole like Otley-Beyer, Robert Fox, and James Robertson, revealed a simplified translation of a Spanish document found in an ancient chest in the archives of the Audencia in Manila in 1867 by a Gil Piamontes de Alazerna which would rewrite the history of the First Mass if validated.

The document is referred to in various social media posts, though rarely in formal history papers and has yet to make it into any formal textbooks. Asa yet, the noriginal has not surfaced and may well be among those destroyed in World War 2 and the devastation of Intramuros.

Those familiar with Philippine history will note the spoiler in the title of this piece but let us continue with Mr Hill’s article:

“About the year 1867 the civil archives of the government were stored in an old buildin on Calle Postigo in the Walled City; that is, the older remnants, the judicial archives being kept in the Audiencia and the ecclesiastical ones in the Episcopal Palace. Some of the most important records had been sent to Spain, as during the English occupation of Manila a century before these civil archives had been thoroughly ransacked and some documents taken for the British Museum. Many of these old bundles of documents written on parchment, linen paper, or other material, had been almost totally destroyed by dampness, molds, and insects.

In that year a Spaniard, Gil Piamontes de Alazerna, with a turn for investigation deciphered many of the remaining documents. He found one ancient chest, closed with an oxidized padlock, which bore the following inscription:


The contents, however, proved to be a mass of dust. If these papers had been preserved they no doubt would have cast some light on the administration of this unfortunate governor of the Islands. Other documents discovered had to do with the founding of the Parian, while another dealt with the founding of a “polyglot villa” to guard against intermarriage, etc., and was entitled :—-


Of special interest, however, was a find purporting to be a document relating to the voyage of Magellan, his landing on the island of Suluan (really Homonhon) and his treaty of friendship with the natives there. Suluan lies about twenty miles east of Homonhon or Jomojon, its height not over 125 feet, and the shallow waters around it a good fishing ground. Homonhon has two elevations, one of 250 feet in the south and one of 340 feet in the north. The inhabitants reside on both islands according to season, as Suluan faces the wastes of the Pacific and is unsheltered from the winds.

There are two settlements on Homonhon. The document, shorn of many antiquated expressions and revised, is as follows:

Ut supra ct intra

The Trinidad, flagship of the three ships in which Hernando Magallanes came to the Philippines had for pilot, Esteban Gomez de Eloraiaga, for Chaplain Fray Pedro Valderama, Secretary and Notary Leon de Espeleta, Master of Camp Juan Bautista de Pontferrol, Alguacil
Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa, Quartermaster Francisco Albo, and Surgeon Juan Morales, with fourteen sailors, ten seamen, five pages, two sail-makers, a cabin-boy, and a Mallacan interpreter named Enrique, The latter had been obtained by Magallanes himself, when he was in Mallaca on a former voyage to the East Indies.


The Trinidad raised anchor and left the islands of Canoyas [later called the Ladrones from the thievish propensities of its inhabitants] on March 7, 1521. It sailed with a fair wind until they sighted the high land of Samar.

Passing the isle of Suluan, they landed on Homonhon where, finding fresh water, they resolved to rest a few days from their voyage.

On the 17th of March while still anchored, they were visited by several canoes or praus, carrying the principal chiefs of Suluan, Bisayos named Inaroyan, Limbas, Bucad, Layong, Calipay, Badiao, Cabuling, and the headman or dato, Garas-Garas, These came aboard and the captain [Magallanes] explained to them through Enrique the interpreter, that the King of Spain had sent them not to do any damage, but to spread the Faith of Christ and convert them to the True Religion. He also told them of the adverse reception the Spaniards had met with in the isles of Canoyas [Ladrones] where the natives had stolen all they could lay their hands on until he had fired the port cannon to intimidate them.

They listened in silence to Magallanes after which the chief, Garas-Garas, replied that he lamented the occurrence and that the chief of those islands was named Tilic-Mata and was no friend of theirs. He also said that some years before men in a strange ship had called at the Canoyas requesting provisions and promising to pay in barter.

Pigs, fowl and fish had been supplied, but the ship had sailed away without recompensing them, and he suggest- ed that the Spaniards were probably taken for the same men. He added that he was no enemy to strangers and invited them ashore to accept his hospitality.

The Spaniards disembarked, and Garas-Garas, having with him a number of fishing boats with nets, caught a great quantity of fish with dexterity andskill. The Spaniards pitched their pabellons [tents] ashore and those suffering from scurvy were benefitted by eating coconuts and other fruits and vegetables. As they were so well received, they
called Homonhon “Nueva Providencia”.

Garas-Garas retired to his mountain clearing, and the next day the captain [Magallanesj, desiring to make a pact of peace and friendship, sent the quartermaster Albo to notify him of this. Garas-Garas was absent on the arrival of Albo, making preparations for the feast to be given, and Inaroyan was in charge of the clearing. With lack of tact Albo addressed him in such a haughty manner in ordering him to repair to the Trinidad in response to the King and his mighty captain Magallanes, that Inaroyan became furious and replied in like manner, refusing to receive orders except from his own chief.

Garas-Garas arrived at that moment with two women bearing supplies for Magallanes and overheard the high words. He at once made peace between the two men, after which they all left carrying, the presents. Arrived at the shore, Albo entered the ship’s boat and was rowed to the flagship, the chief following in his canoes. Magallanes appeared dressed in his finest clothes and received Garas-Garas with pleasure. Albo had reported the occurrence and Garas-Garas requested that Inaroyan be pardoned as he was a great warrior but had a high temper.

At this Magallanes reprimanded Albo severely. Touched by this conduct, the chief asked that Albo also be pardoned and embraced Magallanes and presented his gifts.

The gifts consisted of two large jars of rice, a bamboo tube full of wild honey, pigs, fowls, fruit, vegetables, especially egg-plants, and a gold-headed truncheon [probablya mark of office]. The latter was refused by Magallanes as of too much value. He in return bestowed on Garas-Garas a pearl-colored mantle of wool, a purple hat, some shirts of merino, knives of Toledo, mirrors, and silver buttons. The chief in turn divided these amongst his people and brought from the canoe a jar of palm-wine [tuba], and although the Spaniards did not like its smell, its heady qualities were not far behind the Jerez and Rioja they produced and in which each drank the other’s health.

They also agreed that they would celebrate a treaty of friendship and returned to the shore. The next day was stormy and nothing was done until the 19th of March, when most the Spaniards disembarked, leaving only enough men to guard the vessels. Mass was celebrated and after the ceremony a tall cross was raised near the shore. Garas-Garas, Iranoyan, and the others entered into a treaty of friendship with Don Hernando Magallanes, representing
His Majesty, which was drawn up by Leon de Espeleta as follows:


“In the island of Suluan (sic) this 19th day of March 1521, before me, Notary and Escribano of the Expedition sent by His Majesty, the King of Spain, I, Leon de Espeleta, hereby testify:

“*That the Captain Don Hernando Magallanes enters into a treaty of peace and friendship with the chiefs of this island, Garas-Garas, Inaroyan, and their followers, Iros, Cauong, Bulit, Ulasi, Tipot, Calang-Calang, Ugay, Ananiot, and Sicsican on the one part, and the afore-mentioned Captain Hernando Magalianes, Esteban Gomez, Pedro Vaiderama, Juan Bautista Ponferro!, Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa, and Francisco Albo, representing the interests of His Majesty for the other part do hereby covenant;—

***That there shall be peace between both parties and that the party of the second part promises to defend and protect the natives from all their enemies so tong as this covenant lasts;

***That the products of land and sea be subject to the laws of trading, that the women be respected, and abuses by cither party be punished by each respective chief;

“*That the natives render aid to the subjects of His Majesty in both peace and war, and that vessels of His Majesty if they arrive shall be supplied with provisions
at the current price;

“That if cether party transgress this treaty of peace they shall be punished by laws of either chief and that if attacked by any enemy they shall unite to defend their interests.

“In testimony of which we hereby sign this docutnent.
Hernado Magallanys.’”
(Following are seventeen illegible signatures, after which below is that of the Escribano and Notary,) “Leon de Espeleta.”

Now let us look at the Pigafetta account

“Saturday, the I6th of March, 1521, we arrived at day- break in sight of a high island, three hundred leagues distant from the before-mentioned  Thieves island. This isle is named Zamal (Samar). The next day the captain-general wished to land at another uninhabitted island near the first to be in greater security and to take water, also to repose there a few days. He set up there two tents on shore for the sick, and had a sow killed for them.

Monday, the 18th of March, after dinner, we saw a boat come towards us with nine men in it : upon which the captain-general ordered that no one should move or speak without his permission.  When these people had come into this island towards us, immediately the principal one amongst them went towards the captain-general with de-monstrations of being very joyous at our arrival. Five of the most showy of them remained with us, the others who remained with the boat went to call some men who were fishin-, and afterwards all of them came together.

The captain seeing that these people were reasonable, ordered food and drink to be given them, and he gave them some red caps, looking glasses, combs, bells, ivory, and other things. When these people saw the politeness of the captain, they presented some fish, and a vessel of palm wine, which they call in their language Uraca; figs more than a foot”long, and others smaller and of a better savour, and two cochos (coconuts).

At that time they had nothing to give him, and they made signs to us with their hands that in four days they would bring us Umai, which is rice, cocos, and many other victuals. To explain the kind of fruits, above-named it must be known that the one which they call cochi, is the fruit which the palm trees bear. And as we have breads wine, oil, and vinegar, proceeding from different kinds, so these people have those things proceeding from these palm trees only.

It must be said that wine proceeds from the said palm trees in the following manner. They make a hole at the summit of the tree as far as its heart, which is named palmito, from which a liquor comes out in drops down the tree, like white must, which is sweet, but with somewhat of bitter. They have canes as thick as the leg, in which they draw off this liquor, and they fasten them to the tree from the evening till next morning, and from the morning to the evening, because this liquor comes little by little.

This palm produces a fruit named cocho, which is as large as the head, or there- abouts : its first husk is green, and two fingers in thickness, in it they find certain threads, with which they make the cords for fastening their boats. Under this husk there is another very hard, and thicker than that of a walnut. They burn this second rind, and make with it a powder which is useful to them. Under this rind there is a white marrow of a finger’s thickness, which they eat fresh with meat and fish, as we do bread, and it has the taste of an almond, and if anyone dried it he might make bread of it.

From the middle of this marrow there comes out a clear sweet water, and very cordial which, when it has rested a little, and settled, congeals and becomes like an apple.  When they wish to make oil they take this fruit, the coco, and let it get rotten, and they corrupt this marrow in the water, then they boil it, and it becomes oil in the manner of butter.

When they want to make vinegar, they let the water in the cocoa-nut get bad, and they put it in the sun, when it turns to vinegar like white wine. From this fruit milk also can be made, as we experienced, for we scraped this marrow and then put it with its water, and passed it through a cloth, and thus it was milk like that of goats.

This kind of palm tree is like the date-palm, but not so rugged. Two of these trees can maintain a family of ten persons : but they do not draw wine as above-mentioned always from one tree, but draw from one for eight days, and from the other as long. For if they did not, otherwise the trees would dry up. In this manner they last a hundred years.

These people became very familiar and friendly with us, and explained many things to us in their language, and told us the names of some islands which we saw with our eyes before us.

The island where they dwelt is called Zuluam, and it is not large. As they were sufficiently agreeable and conversible we had great pleasure with them. The captain seeing that they were of this good condition, to do them greater honour conducted them to the ship, and showed them all his goods, that is to say, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, gold and all  that was in the ship. He also had some shots fired with his artillery, at which they were so much afraid that they wished to jump from the ship into the sea.

They made signs that the things which the captain had shown them grew there where we were going. When they wished to leave us they took leave of the captain and of us with very good manners and gracefulness, promising us to come back to see us.

The island we were at was named Humunu; nevertheless because we found there two springs of very fresh water we named it the Watering Place of good signs and because we found here the first signs of gold. There is much white coral to be found here, and large trees which bear fruit smaller than an almond, and which are like pines. There were also many palm trees both good and bad.

In this place there were many circumjacent islands, on which account we named them the archipelago of St. Lazarus, because we stayed there on the day and feast of St. Lazarus. This region and archipelago is in ten degrees north latitude, and a hundred and sixty-one degrees longitude from the line of demar- cation. Friday, the 22nd of March, the above-mentioned people, who had promised us to return, came about midday, with two boats laden with the said fruit cochi, sweet oranges, a vessel of palm wine, and a cock, to give us to understand that they had poultry in their country, so that we bought all that they brought. The lord of these people was old, and had his face painted, and had gold rings suspended to his ears, which they name Schione, and the others had many bracelets and rings of gold on their arms, with a wrapper of linen round their head. We remained at this place eight days : the captain went there every day to see his sick men, whom he had placed on this island to refresh them : and he gave them himself every day the water of this said fruit the cocho, which comforted them much, 

Near this isle is another where there are a kind of people who wear holes in their ears so large that they can pass their arms through them ; these people are Caphre, that is to say Gentiles, and they go naked, except that round their middles they wear cloth made of the bark of trees. But there are some of the more remarkable of them who wear cotton stuff, and at the end of it there is some work of silk done with a needle. These people are tawny, fat, and painted, and they anoint themselves with the oil of coco nuts and sesame, to preserve them from the sun and the wind. Their hair is very black and long, reaching to the waist, and they carry small daggers and knives, ornamented with gold, and many other things, such as darts, harpoons, and nets to fish, like our rizali, and their boats are like ours.”

The differences are quite stark. Pigafetta gives an enormous amount of detail about the islands and the people who lived there, although he mentions no names. He mentions no Mass or peace treaty, yet these were a key part of the mission parameters and vital to record. They would have been the first in the newly found islands and so of tremendous importance.

Also Enrique, the Malay-speaking interpreter has nothing to do which this engagement. He speaks to no-one and all communication is done through signs. This suggests, by the way, that Sulu-am, Homohom and Guiuan were not on major trade routes and that the local elite spoke little or no Malay.

The Hill document sounds suspiciously like a remix of Pigafetta’s account of arrival off Homohon and later events on Mazaua and Cebu. And we are right to be suspicious. Hill himself had doubts.

Everything now rests on provenance. Where did the document come from?

hilledUsually overlooked is a chatty commentary in that same issue by the Editor. A letter from Hill is quoted as saying that the document was collected by the late Eduardo de Lete, a significant figure in Philippine nationalist history who helped found La Solidaridad newpaper and collected old documents. Some of those documents fell into the hands of an “old friend named Marco” of Bacolod,Negros Occidental. “The latter’s son, Mr. Jose E. Marco, sent me copies of such as I desired” among which was the document he translated for the magazine.  He refers to the document as a ‘purported’ account and says “Naturally we have no check on these documents”.

If you are unfamiliar with the works of Jose E. Marco, whose works were inflicted on Filipino students in dozens of textbooks as late as the 1990s and still lays spoor in social media then you should become acquainted with him. In the early 20th century he forged numerous fraudulent documents including the notorious Code of Kalantiaw, the Povedano manuscripts, La Loba Negra – a supposed novel by Jose Burgos, a fake history of Negros, and at one time offered fake postal stamps to the man who had actually designed the real ones. He is not known to have delivered a single genuine document in his entire career.

An even now, in 2021, the ghost of Jose E. Marco, makes his contribution to the Quincentennial of the Firest Mass in the Philippines.


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