By Augusto V. de Viana
THE recording and writing of history is not an
exact science. One’s perspective may also affect its writing. The
Americans, for example, called the Filipino-American War the
“Philippine Insurrection” as if they owned the country through
the Treaty of Paris. The Filipino-American War was actually a
continuation of the war for independence. It took years before the
US Library of Congress renamed the Philippine Insurgent Paper the
Philippine Revolutionary Records.
As the government agency for propagating
Philippine history, the National Historical Institute corrects
myths, misconceptions and factual mistakes. This is not an easy
task, because it involves not only intensive research but diplomacy
on touchy issues and sensitivity to local pride
One such issue involved the authenticity of the
Code of Kalantiaw. From its supposed discovery early in the 20th
century, Rajah Bendahara Kalantiaw and his Code became a source of
pride for Filipinos in general and the people of Aklan in
particular. The Code seemed to show that the Filipinos had a
lawgiver who was an equivalent of Hammurabi or Solon.
Kalantiaw was celebrated in Philippine
textbooks. The President of the Philippines created a special award,
the Order of Kalantiaw, for retiring members of the Supreme Court. A
shrine in Aklan was built in Kalantiaw’s honor.
The dissertation of William Henry Scott,
defended at the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School in 1968,
cast doubt on Kalantiaw and his Code. An empiricist, Scott proved
that the sources for Kalantiaw and his Code were faulty. His
findings were adopted by the National Historical Institute, which
asked the Office of the President to withdraw the Order of Kalantiaw.
Aklan was not happy with the decision and its Sangguniang
Panlalawigan proposed further studies involving Chinese, Japanese
and Arabic sources.
The NHI convenes round- tables to settle some of
these historical disputes, evaluate materials, invite the disputants
to present evidence and come up with a conclusion. The institute has
asked the services of lawyers, especially former members of the
Supreme Court and the Office of the Solicitor General, to help
resolve historical questions. A historian often advises the panels.
In 1996 a roundtable, chaired by former Supreme
Court Justice Emilio Gancayco, met to determine the site of the
first Mass in the Philippines. Gancayco was assisted by the lawyer
Bartolome Fernandez and Dr. Ma. Luisa T. Camagay as history adviser.
The site of the first Mass was a contentious matter between Limasawa
and Butuan as both claimed having hosted the event.
In 1976 an earlier panel convened to settle the
matter but politics intervened. The First Lady Imelda Marcos
appeared at one of its meetings. The official position was that the
first Mass took place on the island of Limasawa in southern Leyte.
Actually Mrs. Marcos did not try to influence the decision of the
panel which ruled in favor of Limasawa.
To dispel accusations that the NHI was forced to
rule in favor of Limasawa, another panel was convened in 1996. It
also gave the nod to Limasawa. The panel based its findings on the
word-for-word translation and analysis of Antonio de Pigafetta’s
chronicle of Magellan’s voyage. The Butuan side refused to accept
the findings and vowed to present more evidence.
Other roundtables were convened to settle the
issues of where and when the first cry of the Philippine Revolution
took place, where the Philippine flag was first raised in Mindanao
and where the blood compact between Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de
Legazpi took place. On the “first cry,” the official stand was
based on Teodoro Agoncillo’s research that it took place on August
23, 1896, at Pugad Lawin.
Other places that claimed the site were
Balintawak, Kang-kong, Caloocan and Bahay Toro. The dates also
conflicted: August 23, 24, 25 and 26, 1896. An earlier panel upheld
August 23, 1896, and Pugad Lawin as the date and place of the
“first cry” of the Revolution.
In 2001 Justice Gancayco again headed a panel to
settle the place and date of the unang sigaw. The panel had
Professors Bernard Karganilla and Doroteo Abaya of the University of
the Philippines and Dr. Rene Escalante as adviser. After the
resource persons, the group reaffirmed August 23, 1896, and Pugad
In 1999 the National Centennial Commission
proclaimed that Butuan was the site of the first flag-raising in
Mindanao and that it took place on January 17, 1899. The flag was
raised at the town square, attended by Filipino patriots led by
Wenceslao Gonzales. To commemorate the centenary of the event the
commission had the town square refurbished and built a hundred-foot
The claim was contested by Surigao and Cagayan
de Oro. To settle the matter a roundtable panel, headed by former
Supreme Court Associate Justice Camilo D. Quiason, was convened. It
heard the presentations by the three cities.
Representatives from Cagayan de Oro said that
the Philippine flag was raised by Filipino patriots in their place
on January 10, 1899. The spokesmen from Surigao presented evidence
that the flag was raised there as early as December 26, 1898. Though
it was said that the flag was observed flying “without any
fanfare,” the panel ruled in favor of Surigao. The National
Historical Institute installed a marker recognizing Surigao.
The most recent panel was convened in 2003-05 to
pinpoint the site of the blood compact between the Boholano
chieftain Sikatuna and the Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.
Tagbilaran City claimed the honor but this was contested by the
municipality of Loay.
Judge Nestor Ballacillo of the Solicitor
General’s Office headed the study. Its members were Solicitor
Edgardo Sison of the Office of the Solicitor General, Manila Times
Publisher Fred de la Rosa and Dr. Ricardo T. Jose as adviser.
The panel heard the representatives from
Tagbilaran and Loay, both claiming to be the site of the compact.
The panel continued its work in 2005 with the help of experts from
the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority and the UP
Department of Geography who could talk about geography and
By comparing historical documents with archival
and modern maps and by going personally to Tagbilaran and Loay, the
panel concluded that the Blood Compact took place at sea at
Hinawanan Bay off Loay in March 1565. The NHI installed a historical
marker at the Hinawanan Bay shore in March 2006 to commemorate the
site of the compact.
Another historical error corrected by the
National Historical Institute was the site of the first shot of the
Filipino-American War. Traditionally it was believed that the shot
was fired by the American sentry, Private William W. Grayson, on
February 4, 1899, at the San Juan or Pinaglabanan Bridge.
Dr. Benito J. Legarda’s research, however,
showed that the first shot of the war took place not in San Juan but
in Santa Mesa, Manila, at the corner of what is now Silencio and
Dr. Legarda based his findings on the Philippine
Revolutionary Records which mention the vicinity of Blockhouse No. 7
in Santa Mesa, one of the Filipino outposts before the American
lines, as the site that heard the first shot. The old water main
mentioned in the Records is found nearby. After adopting Legarda’s
findings, the institute installed a new marker at the corner of the
two streets and removed the old one at San Juan Bridge.
Various issues have yet to be resolved by the
National Historical Institute. Among these are the first Mass in
Luzon; the question of Miguel Malvar being the second President of
the Philippines; and whether Rizal’s celebrated retraction was
genuine or a forgery.
Not all people and places are pleased with the
correction of history. Education officials, teachers, textbook
writers and publishers have to be informed. It is expensive to
rewrite textbooks, change addresses and build new markers. Local
officials are offended when they lose the place of honor. There
could be resistance from parties who bristle at the findings. At one
time the Institute was asked to show more sensitivity when rewriting
The issue of who and what is first and last,
i.e. first Mass, first cry, last general to surrender etc. is fluid.
Historical research may turn up information that could debunk
conventional fact. Admittedly the Institute has solved only the
“what’s” of history. Though historical accuracy and correction
are desirable, what is more important is the overall impact or
importance of a singular event to history.
The author is chief history
researcher, National Historical Institute.