March 16, 1521 was the day when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” the Philippines on behalf of the Spanish Empire. However, this fact is being downplayed during the commemorative activities that are lined up for the milestone celebration in our staunchly Roman Catholic country.

Take for example the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC), which is the government body handling the 2021 commemoration of various events that happened five centuries ago. The NQC wants to highlight the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan on April 27, when local chieftain Lapulapu and his forces killed Magellan at Punta Engaño located in present-day Lapulapu City, Cebu province.

Secondary to the Battle of Mactan in the NQC calendar is the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world. This was accomplished by remnants of Magellan’s 241-man expedition commissioned by King Charles V to find a new route to the East Indies from Europe. Out of the original five ships that sailed from Seville in 1519, only one returned to Spain in 1522 under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano.

And only third in the NCQ’s hierarchy of commemorations is the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines, with an explicitly stated limitation – “the government’s focus on academic, cultural, and historical aspects only.”

Spearheading the religious and spiritual aspects is the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) led by its President, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles. The CBCP’s yearlong commemoration will kick off on April 4 with the celebration of the first Easter mass in all cathedrals and parishes nationwide, followed by the reenactment of the first baptism in front of the Magellan Cross beside the Basilica del Santo Niño at Magallanes Street, Cebu City on April 14.

According to CBCP Vice President and Caloocan Bishop Pablo David, “the same Christian faith that the conquistadores tried to use in order to pursue their colonial purposes also inspired our revolutionaries to dream of freedom and democracy.” He pointed out that the natives in 1521 did not equate Christianity with colonialism as “our ancestors were intelligent enough to accept what was good and reject what was evil.”

In the Vatican, Pope Francis will officiate a special mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on March 14 together with Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, papal vicar for Rome Angelo Cardinal De Donatis, and the Filipino community in Italy. The Pope has also declared a “Special Jubilee Year” in the Archdiocese of Cebu and is granting plenary indulgence to Filipinos who will visit any of the 500 Jubilee Churches throughout the archipelago.

Secular organizations are also participating in the quincentennial commemoration. The UP Diliman Department of Anthropology held a one-day forum on March 14 titled “Of Crosses and Culture: An Anthropological Look at 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines.” It featured critical discussions on cultural developments pertinent to the introduction of Christian practices in the country.

Even in Portugal, Philippine Ambassador to Lisbon Celia Anna Feria hosted a conference on “Magellan in Philippine History” in December 2019 with five leading Filipino historians as keynote speakers. The conference received widespread coverage in the Portuguese press and was capped by the historians’ visit to Magellan’s hometown Sabrosa in the Tras-os-Montes region of northern Portugal.

March 16, 2021 would have been the Philippine National Day at the World Expo in Dubai. The event was originally set by the Department of Trade and Industry, which has been assigned to lead the Philippine Organizing Committee (POC) for Expo 2020 Dubai. But just like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the World Expo has also been postponed by one year due to the pandemic.

The POC chose the date because “the celebration will be designed to change people’s thinking that March 16, 1521 is the day that Magellan discovered the Philippines to the day Filipinos discovered Magellan.”  

Downplaying the significance of Magellan’s “discovery” seems to be trending nowadays. But no amount of historical revisionism can alter the fact that his arrival on the island of Homonhon in Eastern Samar 500 years ago paved the way for the eventual unification of our more than 7,000 islands into the Filipino nation.

Source: Manila Bulletin (