Please Don’t Remove or Replace the Lapulapu Statue at the Mactan Liberty Shrine

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On April 27, 1521, native chieftain Datu Lapulapu vanquished Spanish conquistador Ferdinand Magellan in the Battle of Mactan.

In 1980, a statue of Datu Lapulapu was built at the Liberty Shrine in Mactan, Cebu. This has long been a dream for Filipinos, as an obelisk honoring Magellan has stood in the same shrine since 1866.

Standing 10 meters tall and holding a kampilan on its right hand with a shield on the left, the young and muscular-looking Lapulapu statue wears a loincloth and a necklace of animal bones and teeth. It appears poised for combat, as if ready to fight invaders.

The statue has been a central figure in public ceremonies and socio-civic activities in Cebu. Public officials, military leaders and foreign diplomats have paid tribute to it in important commemorations through the years.

In its own right, the statue itself has become a historical relic. It is also one of the most photographed icons in the country, since Lapu-lapu City in Mactan Island is one of the Philippines’ top tourist destinations. As the statue is just a stone’s throw away from world-class hotels and beach resorts, it has become a regular stop for thousands of tourists and visitors.

It deeply saddens us, therefore, to learn that this statue will soon be taken out and stored in a museum.

We refer to a plan by the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC) to replace it with a new tableau-style monument depicting how Magellan was killed not by Lapulapu himself but through a “collective effort” of Mactan’s natives. Accordingly, this will be “a more accurate” historical representation as there are no records showing that it was Lapulapu who actually slew Magellan.

The development confuses us no end. President Rodrigo Duterte himself has said that he wants to highlight Lapulapu in the quincentennial celebration. He has even declared April 27 as Lapulapu Day to emphasize that the Mactan chieftain was a national, not just a local, hero. He has also suggested the renaming of the airport in Cebu after Lapulapu. He further urges that we do away with “Euro-centric” views on our history, such as the assertion that Magellan “discovered” the Philippines.

But the NQC certainly has a strange way of highlighting Lapulapu’s heroism and shunning Euro-centric views. First, it wants to remove the 39 year-old Lapulapu statue at the Mactan Liberty Shrine and store it inside a museum. Second, it has launched a nationwide contest for a new monument that will replace the statue. The NQC is now also the one spreading the “collective effort” theory on Magellan’s death, effectively negating Lapulapu’s lead role in that historic event.

The theory reportedly arises from European historical sources saying that in 1521, Lapulapu was already 70 years old, hence incapable of engaging Magellan in hand-to-hand combat. The existing Lapulapu statue is therefore allegedly inaccurate since the native chieftain was nowhere
near muscular. Moreover, Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler of Magellan’s expedition also did not mention Lapulapu as responsible for striking the fatal blow that killed Magellan.

Take note that all of these ideas emanated from European sources. If that’s not Euro-centric enough, then we don’t know what is.

Granting without admitting
that he did not personally fight Mactan’s invaders as he was more busy directing the battle as a commander in-chief, Lapulapu should still very much deserve the honor of being named as the slayer of Magellan on the principle of command responsibility.

If the tides of history were reversed and Lapulapu was the one who got killed in that battle by one of the invading Spanish soldiers, would European historians not credit such a feat to Magellan, being the leader of the expedition? Of course they would, on the same principle of command responsibility.

On the issue of Magellan’s death having been allegedly a “collective effort” and thus
not creditable to Lapulapu, it would seem like this is
Indicative of much double-talk over the quincentennial activities’ aim of highlighting the hero. By stealing the honor from Lapulapu and crediting it to others, aren’t we actually dishonouring him instead, as what some European interests might actually want us to do?

We find it odd that quincentennial event organizers are saying that they want to highlight Lapulapu and yet they plan to replace his statue with a tableau-style monument showing that Magellan was defeated by a mob.

If Lapulapu was not really responsible for Magellan’s defeat, then of what use are we honoring him for? We might as well rename Lapulapu City into the Collective Effort City. Ditto for the military camp, airport, schools, barangays and many other facilities and places named in his honor.

Furthermore, Pigafetta’s obvious non-mention of Lapulapu as the slayer of Magellan in his voyage records is understandable. Remember that he referred to Magellan as “my lord, my light, my life.” Magellan was his idol and he most certainly did not want a seemingly insignificant “Indio” to be recognized as the slayer of his great master. To Pigafetta, native chieftain Lapulapu must have been incomparable to Magellan who was a noble, naval officer, diplomat and war veteran. To him, mentioning Lapulapu as Magellan’s terminator in his chronicles would have been disastrously sacrilegious, hence his sin of omission.

As to the claim that Lapulapu was a weak septuagenarian unable to fight a 41 year-old Magellan, we can only postulate two counter-theories: first, that this is a colonizer-initiated allegation meant to discredit Lapulapu and rob him of the victory that he so valiantly fought for and; two, this could be rumor-mongering at best, since there is no photograph or birth papers to prove it.

We thus believe that the theory of a 70-year old Lapulapu is just another one of those Euro-centric hysterical viewpoints that President Duterte has
warned us against embracing blindly.

In fact, taking this a step further, we must refuse to accept the claim that the Lapulapu statue is historically inaccurate because it depicts a young and muscular person
while the 1521 Mactan native chieftain was an old man. Why? Because even if Lapulapu did eventually grow old, he must definitely have gone through youth, and it is but customary that we immortalise heroes with statues or representations that show them in their young and virile state.

That’s exactly why we don’t see a statue of an old Emilio Aguinaldo even if he did actually die old. This is the same reason why pictures placed on the coffins of dead
persons during funeral wakes look younger than the corpses actually inside.

With these premises in mind, we therefore respectfully appeal to the NQC to reconsider its decision of removing and replacing the Lapulapu statue at the Mactan Liberty Shrine.

We have no objections to the addition of a new monument there, but the old statue must remain in its place. New features may be introduced at the shrine which is situated on hallowed grounds that once was home to Lapulapu. Yet the NQC must leave the existing statue untouched in its present place and NOT replace or transfer it elsewhere.

To do otherwise would be a desecration of the memory of the Philippine’s first national hero. To do otherwise will be a great disservice to a nation whose freedoms Datu Lapulapu once fought fiercely for.