The atmosphere was festive when me and my wife arrived at Manila South Harbor’s Pier 15 that windy afternoon of August 6. The place is not entirely tourist friendly, it being a seaport. But as we neared towards where the visiting Mexican ship was berthed, we saw its country’s huge flag waving mightily from one of its masts amidst gray clouds and a cold wind, and loud cumbia music was joyfully blurting out from its numerous speakers as visitors both Filipino and foreign photographed the ship from within and without.
For the first time since the fabled Galleon Trade ended two centuries ago, México has finally “returned” to Filipinas via this historic goodwill visit of its navy’s sail training vessel, the ARM* Cuauhtémoc (BE01). The last time a Mexican vessel visited our waters was in 1815 when the galleon ship San Fernando arrived from Acapulco. Fortuitously, the name of that ship was also the name of our country’s discoverer, Fernando Magallanes, popularly known as Ferdinand Magellan, who was then a vassal of Spain (he was Portuguese lest you forget).
Could the arrival of that last galleon ship bearing his name served as something gloomily symbolic (the exit of Spain and the eventual US invasion of 1898)?
It should be remembered that Spain ruled us through México from 1565 to 1821. Only when México had declared her independence from Spain in 1821 were we ruled directly by the mother country. As such, the cultural exchanges that occurred between México and Filipinas cannot be ignored, not to mention the world’s first foray into globalization of which these two countries were a part of. I’ve already written extensively about this topic for a magazine (click here).
That is why the ARM Cuauhtémoc’s four-day goodwill visit, done in part to commemorate its 35th anniversary as well as the centenary of the promulgation of the Méxican Constitution, was something special. The vessel may not be a galleon ship but it strikingly looks like one. And it is docked in Manila Bay, very close to the Walled City of Intramuros, the original capital of Filipinas. It was a homecoming of sorts.
The day of our visit was made extra special too because I was scheduled for an interview by renowned TV sportscaster Chino Trinidad for his Pilipinas HD channel right there aboard the ARM Cuauhtémoc. Embarrasingly, I was not aware of this media content providing platform which he launched last year (I’m not the TV type sort of guy, that’s why). Besides, mere mention of his name will immediately give people an idea of who he is: a sports broadcaster. But by some amazing twist of fate, his well-known persona has transformed from TV sports connoisseur to history aficionado who is hell-bent on searching for the Filipino Identity (one of his influences was his Tito Nick Joaquín, a drinking buddy of his father Recah who himself is a distinguished sports columnist). Chino strives to achieve this through documentaries and other programs that feature topics on Filipino History as well as the best of what our country can offer.
The interview centered on the importance of the galleon trade to Filipino History. The ARM Cuauhtémoc, we believed, was the perfect venue for the interview especially since, as already mentioned, it was the first Mexican vessel to have visited our country after 202 years. Chino also interviewed one navy officer, Teniente (Lieutenant) Sánchez Hoz, who was surprisingly knowledgeable about the deep bond between his country and ours. The officer spoke no English, so I served as an interpreter. The Spanish spoken by the Mexican crew members was somehow easy to understand, almost Filipino (compared to Spanish speakers from other countries who speak quite fast like those from Mother Spain) because the kind of Spanish that we Filipinos have acquired was from them; remember that we were ruled by Spain through their country for 256 years (we were ruled directly by Spain for only 77 years).
I’m not sure when this episode about the ARM Cuauhtémoc will be shown. I don’t think I’d be able to watch it since our cable TV provider has no Pilipinas HD. But it doesn’t matter. What matters the most is that this big part of our history, the galleon trade, will be shown on a TV channel whose aim is to ennoble the Filipino Identity. So I encourage all Filipinos who have a deep sense of love, respect, and concern for our history, heritage and culture to patronize Chino’s selfless project called Pilipinas HD. What he is doing is a great service to our country.