Empowering Localities this Quincentennial
Posted on 23 October 2021
By Rene R. Escalante, Ph.D.
In 2018, when the National Quincentennial Committee or NQC had just started, we already envisioned involving as many places as we could in the 500th anniversary of the Philippine part in the first circumnavigation of the world in 2021. I share the same sentiment with the rest of the Filipinos: how come that we did not know much of Palawan’s involvement in this world history. The same thing goes with the association of the Bangsamoro region, Sarangani, Zamboanga Peninsula, and so on and so forth. While there are a number of studies before documenting the places along the route of the first circumnavigation of the Earth, these did not enter well the consciousness of most of us. Thus, we developed this impression that the 500 years or the quincentennial only belongs to either Cebu, Mactan, Limasawa, or Samar which apparently were just four of the thirty-four places the National Historical Commission of the Philippines or NHCP has identified to be part of the first circumnavigation of the planet in Philippine waters. I can say that these accounted places are equally significant, and that includes Tagusao, now a sitio in Barangay Barong-Barong, Brooke’s Point, Palawan. Therefore, the NQC decided to call the series of events from March 16 to October 28, 2021, as the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines—not just as the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines nor the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan. Each and every site is worthy of appreciation. The Filipinos deserve to know the story of the first circumnavigation of the world in the places beyond Cebu, Mactan, Limasawa, or Samar.
In so doing, the NQC and the NHCP spearheaded the installation of historical markers in these places. The unveiling of these black cast iron markers bearing the coat-of-arms of the Republic of the Philippines serves as the main activity of each and every event under the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines. Therefore, we have not just unveiled a historical marker. We are commemorating the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the world in Tagusao. You must own this event. It is not just significant locally nor nationally. It is significant globally.
Through this historical marker, we let the whole world know that Tagusao witnessed the journey that proved that Earth was indeed round. Although I have to say that our ancestors in Tagusao, 500 years ago, were not just spectators of the event as it unfolded. They actively took part in this achievement of science and humankind. When the Magellan-Elcano expedition, the first to circumnavigate the planet, reached the farthest area of Palawan in the present-day Municipality of Aborlan, the initial reaction of our ancestors there was to drive them away. No one among the survivors of the expedition recorded the date of the Palawan episode of their journey. But records are certain that this episode happened between 2 May 1521 or the day the expedition escaped from Cebu to the Bohol waters and 21 June 1521 or the scheduled date of departure of the expedition for Brunei. The original date of our unveiling here at Tagusao was June 18, 2021, then we moved it twice to August 13 and September 24 due to quarantine restrictions. May I take this opportunity to express my utmost gratitude to the Municipality of Brooke’s Point, the Province of Palawan, the Palawan Studies Center of Palawan State University, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government for all the help? The nation owes you a lot for braving the pandemic and the monsoon season.
Before I end, let me once again acknowledge the Palawan Studies Center of Palawan State University. The center is a member-affiliate of NHCP Local Historical Committees Network. Back in 2019, we entrusted to the Center, especially through its Director, Mr. Michael Angelo Doblado, the quincentennial legwork. We named the Center as the sole coordinator of the National Government in Palawan. We owe to Mr. Doblado the inclusion of Tagusao in the thirty-four Quincentennial Historical Markers. For around 500 years, no one has ever realized that the significant port of Palawan where the Magellan-Elcano expedition harbored was in Tagusao. Because the survivors of the expedition were not natives of Palawan or of the Philippines in general, they recorded the name Tagusao based on how they heard it pronounced by our ancestors. According to an unnamed Genoese pilot who wrote his own account of the voyage, the said port’s name was Dyguaçam (pronounced as “Digwazam”). He described its inhabitants as Muslims ruled by Borneo. Probably learning from their experience in Cebu and Mactan, they behaved in this port, and in return, our ancestors welcomed them as friends.
The NHCP subscribed to the recommendation of the Palawan Studies Center that this Port Dyguaçam was Port Tegozzao. The said placename is recorded in the Palawan map drawn by Antonio Pigafetta, the expedition’s noted chronicler. Likewise, Francisco Albo, another survivor of the expedition who left a logbook of their voyage, recorded another name for the port: Saocao which was probably Saoçao (Sawzaw). The closest placename to these recorded names in present-day Palawan is Sitio Tagusao, Barong-Barong, Brooke’s Point, Palawan. During the Spanish colonial period, Tagusao was a noted Palawan port on various European maps. Most likely because of political development in the area, the name was eventually reduced to a sitio.
While their two remaining ships, namely Trinidad and Victoria, were at Tagusao waters, the expedition befriended the people of Palawan, entered into a peace pact, loaded provisions, visited places, and even witnessed the earliest known cockfighting in Philippine history. Remember that Pigafetta described Palawan as a “promised land” because they “suffered great hunger” before reaching it. He continued: “We were often on the point of abandoning the ships and going ashore in order that we might not die of hunger.”
On June 21, 1521, the expedition was set to leave Tagusao for Palawan. The Genoese pilot noted that they met a Bastiam, a Portuguese-speaking Christian native from the Maluku, the objective of the expedition why they were here 500 years ago. He offered his service as a pilot to Brunei but disappeared before the expedition left Tagusao. His presence in Tagusao was proof that our ancestors in Palawan were indeed connected with the rest of the places in Southeast Asia—notwithstanding the great number of archaeological finds in Palawan that further suggests the Asiatic connection.
Much as we want to join you on this momentous occasion, we consider the best interest of everyone.
About the Author
Dr. Rene R. Escalante is the Chairperson of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and concurrently Executive Director of the National Quincentennial Committee. This message was read during the unveiling of the Tagusao Quincentennial Historical Marker on 19 October 2021 at Sitio Tagusao, Barong-Barong, Brooke’s Point, Palawan.