Just for the record Print
Tuesday, 05 June 2018 11:30


ONCE in a while, you get a jolt when you meet someone who would make you consider something that you have ignored up to now, considering it as trivial or with low priority, but which happens to have a solid claim for the historical truth and is therefore asking not only for due attention but also for real justice. It is a case of a historical distortion or error that is crying for correction.

This happened to me recently when I visited Butuan for some pastoral work and incidentally met Fr. Joesilo Amalla, a diocesan priest who has been making many years of research about where the first Mass in the Philippines took place. Some mutual friends arranged our meeting.

He handed me his 200-page manuscript of his work for me to review and told me some relevant tidbits of information about his research as well as showed me some of the reference materials he used.

My personal impression of that meeting is that this priest is not motivated by anything other than trying to establish the historical objectivity of the issue. I did not sense any ulterior motive, much less the glorification of his native Butuan nor of his own self which I tried to discern. Neither did I feel any traces of personal bias or cultural, social or political partisanship in our discussion. He had that certain detachment proper of an objective researcher.

I hope and pray that this issue be given real justice and finally conclusively resolved and laid to rest in the annals of our history as a people who were evangelized by the Spanish colonizers in the early 1500s. It may not be a big issue in the first place, a game-changer, but just the same it deserves to be given justice.

The arguments for Masawa in Butuan and not Limasawa in Samar-Leyte as the site of the first Mass celebrated in our country are strong. There are incontrovertible eyewitness accounts of the people of that time: Antonio Pigafetta, the official chronicler of the Magellan’s voyage; Gines de Mafra, one of Magellan’s original crew who managed to return to Spain and reported about what he found in Masawa; and other supporting testimonies.

Pigafetta in his account specifically wrote: “That island was called Butuan and Calagan. The name of the first king is Raia Colambu and the second Raia Siaui…It is twenty-five leagues from Acquada, and is called Masaua.”

Also the differences with respect to the recorded latitudinal locations of Masawa and Limasawa as reported by the different chroniclers of that time favor the former more than the latter. It can be argued that the accuracy of these estimations, given the facilities of that time, may not be that precise. Besides, there can also be strong motives for making intentionally wrong latitudinal locations to mislead enemies and competitors.

Another argument forwarded is that at that time Masawa in Butuan had some primacy over Limasawa since Masawa had a safe and rich harbor while Limasawa did not have one at that time.

But as time and events passed, the name Masawa became equated with Limasawa. How this came about is an interesting piece of tortuous historical study that certainly would require deep and comprehensive investigation and analysis. Let us hope that our historians can come up with a credible consensus as to which is which with respect to this issue.

Not to be neglected, of course, is the role of politics and public opinion in pursuing the historical truth of this matter. Establishing the historical truth is never an easy affair, since a lot of interpretation and subjective reading of recorded facts and events can vary widely.

Just the same it is a worthwhile effort to sort out all these varying and conflicting claims so that we can celebrate the 500 years of  Christianity in our country come 2021 more meaningfully. May the truth about this issue come out finally!