Everyone knows the date. The legacy of Yoyoy Villame will forever outlive him as Filipinos all over the islands and all over the world sing March 16, 1521 with the one rhythm everyone seems to know. Yet, as widespread as that song is, it isn’t entirely correct. Of course, the jokes about Magellan crying for his mother to call the doctor isn’t historically accurate. But, there is another. The Philippines was not discovered by Magellan. After all, our ancestors lived here the entire time.
By today, it would have been 500 years since Magellan had his first glimpse of the Philippine islands. For him, it would have been an opportunity for fortune. The spice trade was a very profitable venture, to the point that even just a single ship’s worth of spices was enough to recompense the cost to fund a 4-year long journey to circumvent the world.
That lucrative opportunity, however, is backed and fueled by blood and slavery. For 333 years, our ancestors were subjected to slavery that transcends time — one that chains even modern Filipinos. While the Spaniards, most of them colonialists, earned meravides and reales by the shipload, their brown slaves got none of these riches as they toiled and cultivated the earth and waters which were owned by the natives by birthright.
And much more than riches were lost. Cultures, languages, and ideas were burnt to ash, replaced by a culture of insecurity that reaches out towards us today, making us crave for the validation of foreigners. We are what we are today, a nation desperate for attention, because our ancestors were chained and shamed.
Some would often cite the “white man’s burden” when defending the slavery of the ancient Filipinos. It is true that it was the Spaniards who introduced us to Western society and technologies. However, that was never their intent. If anything, they developed the Philippines for them to feel more comfortable in this tropical heat, for them to make the place more “livable.” As if our ancestors had not lived here longer than them!
While it is a good step to repair wounds, this quincentenary being a diplomatic mission after all, it is an entirely different thing to say that the scars were never there in the first place. It must not be forgotten that our ancestors were enslaved for three centuries. It must not be forgotten that the riches of the earth and the waters and the toils of generations were never given to our ancestors. It must not be forgotten that the pain we feel today is a result of generations upon generations of colonialism.
Most importantly, it must not be forgotten that we must forgive, for those that live today have not done the wrongs of the past.
Today, may we remember and never forget.