Honoring Lapulapu: Asia’s Sentinel of Freedom

Published April 27, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Simultaneous morning flag-raising activities in all local government units (LGUs) will highlight the celebration of the 500th or quincentennial anniversary of the victory of Datu Lapulapu over Magellan in the battle of Mactan today, April 27. Heralded as the first Filipino hero, his image is on the badge of every member of the Philippine National Police and Bureau of Fire Protection.

Lapulapu confronted Magellan off the shores of Mactan Island as the Spanish –financed expedition of the Portuguese explorer sailed onward after the celebration of the first mass on Limasawa Island, now part of Maasin, Leyte.

In June 2018, President Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11040 declaring April 27 as Lapulapu Day and making it a non-working holiday in Lapulapu City and a special working holiday throughout the country.  Senator Richard Gordon, the law’s principal author, hailed Lapulapu as having inspired the lines in the Philippine National Anthem, “sa manlulupig, di ka pasisiil” (Ne’er shall invaders trample thy sacred shores).  Unlike Rajah Humabon of Cebu and other local chiefs, Lapulapu refused to acknowledge Spanish sovereignty and did not convert to Christianity.

“Lapulapu, a Visayan-Tausug, had strong principles and was a peaceful leader until invaded, possessing the qualities of courage, bravery, strength, honor, and integrity, which should be emulated by every Filipino. He was Asia’s Sentinel of Freedom,” Gordon said.

A 40-foot statue of Lapulapu mounted on a 10-foot pedestal designed by sculptor Juan Sajid Imao now stands prominently at the Rizal Park. Imao said that Lapulapu is being depicted not as a warrior but as “a strong and peace-loving man who is ready to defend himself against those who threaten his freedom.” 

There is a 400-foot distance between Lapulapu’s statue and Jose Rizal’s monument signifying the 400-plus years that separate their acts of heroism.  Gordon, who was tourism secretary at that time the monument was erected, went on to say that Lapulapu represents the Muslims while Rizal represents the Tagalog Christians in Philippine history.

The quincentennial of Lapulapu’s victory is also commemorated by the Bangko Sentral’s issuance of a new 5,000-peso banknote bearing his image.

A historical sidebar is the parallel commemoration of the quincentennial of the circumnavigation of the globe.  Ironically, Magellan’s slaying at the hands of Lapulapu enabled Sebastian Elcano to assume leadership and he succeeded in completing the journey after a series of mutinies and disasters that hobbled the other vessels in the fleet. 

This is sought to be remembered also on April 27 by illuminating in blue at 6 p.m. government buildings, monuments, and other public spaces to celebrate the country’s maritime civilization and our ancient maritime ancestors.

Yet another sidebar is the renaming of the terminal buildings at the Mactan Cebu international airport after Lapulapu.  The original proposal was to rename the airport itself after the hero in the same way that the Manila international airport was officially renamed after the late Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, Jr. who was assassinated on the tarmac on August 21, 1983.