Ferdinand Magellan: Filipino History's Biggest Villain

Magellans Cross
Magellan's Cross | © Fitri Agung/Flickr

While Spain considers Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan a hero, being the leader of the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe, the Philippines think of him otherwise. Many Filipinos know him as the voyager who fell to his death at the hands of a Filipino hero.

Magellan vs Lapu-Lapu

Lapu-Lapu Shrine in Mactan Island

Ask any Filipino student or even a random Filipino stranger on the streets if they know Ferdinand Magellan or simply, Magellan. This is the response you’ll eventually get – he’s the explorer sent by Spain who failed to colonize the area ruled by Chief Lapu-Lapu. While not everyone will give the exact response, this will be the gist.

In school, history teachers would introduce the story of Lapu-Lapu and Magellan by stating how Magellan arrived in Homonhon (somewhere in Samar today) and befriended the chieftains of Limasawa. They then introduced Magellan to Rajah Humabon, the Rajah of Cebu, who was later baptized into Catholicism alongside his wife. In spite of the warm hospitality that Magellan received from the chieftains he met, Lapu-Lapu strongly opposed Humabon’s orders, resisted the religion being introduced, and was against Spanish hegemony.

This led to the battle between the two leaders. Magellan and his army fought against Lapu-Lapu and his native warriors. Most accounts say Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan during the battle while others say Magellan simply retreated and his Spanish captains killed him. But one thing’s for sure – Filipinos see Magellan as the villain and Lapu-Lapu is seen as one of the early heroes who bravely fought against Spanish conquest.

Today, Filipinos continue to look back and acknowledge Lapu-Lapu’s victory in defeating Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

Reenactment of the Battle of Mactan

On April 27 of each year, the City Government of Cebu holds an event called Kadaugan sa Mactan (where kadaugan means free-for-all) to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Mactan by reenacting the battle between Magellan’s army and Lapu-Lapu’s tribe. According to historical accounts, the battle was held on April 27, 1521 – almost 497 years ago.

The City Government even invites popular Filipino celebrities to take part in the event and portray the characters. In fact, incumbent Senator and world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao was one of those who portrayed Lapu-Lapu in previous reenactments.


Kaplag and Magellan’s Cross

Apart from famous historical spots and white sand beaches of Cebu, tourists also head over to Queen City of the South to see the famous Magellan’s Cross – which Ferdinand Magellan ordered fellow explorers to establish upon their arrival in Cebu.

While Magellan may not be a hero among Filipinos, he is recognized for bringing Christianity in the country. During the annual celebration of Sinulog Festival, there’s always a reenactment of the event when Rajah Humabon and his wife Queen Juana were baptized as Catholics and the moment Ferdinand Magellan gave the Santo Niño image as a baptismal gift to them. This reenactment is called kaplag where students, actors, and actresses portray the roles.

Magellan’s Cross
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