Serendipity in history

I’m always obsessed in trying to link present dates (or celebrations to be more precise) or even persons to historical events. I’m not sure if all historians practice the same, but for me, I find it fun and highly riveting as it somehow reveals a new perspective to a modern event or person.

For example, when I was researching about the life of Captain Abelardo Remoquillo of from San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, I discovered that he shared the same birthdate as the Japanese aircraft carrier Hōshō which had a minor participation in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It should be remembered that the attack on Pearl Harbor was the catalyst of the Pacific War, a theater of World War II, and that Captain Remo, as he was nicknamed, was a hero of that war.

Today, July 18, I turn 39. When I made a similar research that I did on Captain Remo for my special day, I found out that a least known historical event —but something terrifying— happened on my birthdate.

138 years ago today, an earthquake rocked Manila and the provinces of Cavite, Bulacán, La Laguna, Pampanga, and Nueva Écija. Many structures such as churches were destroyed, especially those in Manila and La Laguna.

One of these churches was the one in San Pedro Tunasán (now the City of San Pedro).

La imagen puede contener: cielo, árbol, nube, noche y exterior

Iglesia de San Pedro Tunasán (San Pedro Apóstol Parish Church), San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna (photo taken on 8 March 2017, courtesy of La Familia Viajera).

This church and its parish, dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle, were established on 18 January 1725. The church houses the once miraculous Cross of Tunasán which infamously suffered a Rizalian satirical jab in the novel Noli Me Tangere.

Incidentally, we’ve been living in San Pedro Tunasán since 2004. My sons Jefe and Juanito were baptized in its church in 2010. And it was there where my wife and I had our belated traditional Catholic wedding on 13 September 2013.

Yes, exactly 99 years before I was born, the church which was to become an important part of my life was destroyed by an earthquake. There is indeed serendipity in history.


Mærsk Line took over where the galleon trade had left off

Three days ago (July 12), shipping giant Mærsk Line commemorated its 90th year in the business. On that date 90 years ago, its first vessel made a historic voyage that was to become the first of many. And our country, Filipinas, was part of its first ever route!

It all began when LEISE MÆRSK, the first diesel motor vessel to enter the Mærsk fleet, sailed from Baltimore, Maryland on 12 July 1928 and made stops for more cargo in New York, New York and Savannah, Georgia. It then passed through the Panamá Canal and made a port of call in San Pedro, Los Ángeles. LEISE MÆRSK arrived in Yokohama, Japan on 10 September and continued to Kobe and Moji before calling Manila and Iloílo in late September.


Image result for LEISE MÆRSK

LEISE MÆRSK was the first ship to be used on the USA-Asia route when the company started operations in 1928. It was sunk while sailing under the British flag in November 1940, at the onset of World War II.



Mærsk Line’s first route: from Baltimore, Maryland, USA to Iloílo City, Iloílo Province, Filipinas.

Today, Mærsk Line has become the largest container shipping company in the world, unequaled by none, and with many shipping brands under its helm, some of which do regular business in our country (MCC, Safmarine, etc.), thus providing thousands of jobs for Filipinos and even opening up international business opportunities for both exporters and importers.

In world history, the route and extent of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565—1815) was considered by historians as the first “global village” in the sense that it reduced the world market into a mere village, i.e., any product can be sold almost anywhere. Today, Mærsk Line has taken over the reins of that fabled galleon trade, connecting virtually all seven continents of the world (yes, the polar regions included) with its varied trade routes.

Happy 90th anniversary to Mærsk Line, the crown jewel of A.P. Møller–Mærsk A/S!

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#MaerskLineat90 #90thAnniversary

ARM Cuauhtémoc on Pilipinas HD

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The ARM Cuauhtémoc docked at Manila South Harbor’s Pier 15.

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.

Being interviewed by Chino Trinidad for Pilipinas HD about the significance of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade.

Interviewing Lt. Sánchez Hoz about what he knows of the Galleon Trade as well as the significance of the visit of the ARM Cuauhtémoc to Manila.

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.

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Me and my wife with Chino Trinidad and his Pilipinas HD team (photo from Chino’s camera).

* Armada República Mexicana (Mexican Republic Navy).

Tapatan sa Aristocrat: “Will we ever get the Balangiga bells back?” (video)

I fumbled, stuttered, and groped for words in my first ever press conference, and my wife was less happy about my posture on camera. But I had a ready excuse: I’m more of a writer than a talker, haha. Besides, sharing a table with known political personalities to discuss a historical-turned-national issue is no easy feat for a recluse like me. It was intimidating. In fact, when my wife, myself, and our baby girl arrived at the venue (The Aristocrat Restaurant, Malate) on the eve of History Month, I felt like Peter Parker who visited Germany for the first time in the opening scenes of “Spider-Man: Homecoming“: I was awestruck but tried my best to conceal it.

Actually, when I received an FB message from Rommel López (netizens know him as the guy who made famous last year a kind-hearted taxi driver) inviting me to appear on the said program as one of the resource persons, I was then busy with my EverWing commitments, so I half-mindedly said yes. Had he caught me in a different circumstance, I would have given the invite second thoughts, haha. 😂

I may have appeared on TV in the past, but Tapatan sa The Aristocrat is different: it’s the only weekly press conference to regularly feature our country’s top movers, from former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to Vice President Leni Robredo.

For the July 31st episode, the guests were former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yásay, Jr., Atty. Rómulo Macalintal (Robredo’s lawyer), and myself — just a regular guy who happens to write about Filipino History online.

The topic for that week was brought about by President Rodrigo Duterte’s emphatic statement against the United States government during this year’s SONA to have the Balangiga bells returned to our country.

That is why I say today: give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Isaúli namán ninyó. Masaquít ’yun sa amin.

—President Rodrigo Duterte—

It should be remembered that after turning Sámar into a “howling wilderness” in 1901, the US invaders took with them the bells of Balangiga as war trophies. Two of the bells are now on display at the F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the other one is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea. There have been several attempts in the past to have the bells returned to our country, but to no avail. President Duterte mentioning those bells in his SONA marks the first time that a national leader explicitly asked for their return.


Discussing the possibilities of the Balangiga Bells being returned to our country. From left to right: Host Melo Acuna, Atty. Rómulo Macalintal, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yásay, Jr., myself, and co-host Sky Ortigas (photo: Yeyette Alas).

It is regrettable that I do not talk the way I write. Since I’m such a wuss when it comes to oral discussions, I may have not clearly expressed my sentiments during the press conference. So here they are…

Talk is cheap. If President Duterte really wants the bells of Balangiga to be returned, then he should make a formal written request to the parties concerned, and he should assiduously and perseveringly follow this up and never give up on it until they have come back to where they truly belong: in the belfry of the Church of San Lorenzo Mártir in Balangiga, Sámar. In simple words, the president should act on it. But weeks after his strong statements about the matter, has anything positive come to light?

Secondly, in case the bells of Balangiga have been returned, how will they be conserved? I should share now that my family has visited several heritage churches and have even climbed their belfries. We have seen for ourselves the poor state of their bells. While it can be argued that church bells are the responsibility of parish churches, it should be noted that they are no mere church items. As the president himself has said, they are part of our national heritage. They should be given due importance. But how could our government even talk about giving them importance when the place where those bells were cast (Casa Súnico in San Nicolás, Manila) could not even be conserved and protected?

More importantly, the issue of diplomacy should not be ignored. It is well-known how anti-US our president is. This problem, of course, will come to play especially now that he has reoponed old wounds. But what had happened in Balangiga was a tragedy, a tragedy not only for the natives there but also to the US troops who were massacred. Not all of them were bad guys. Captain Thomas W. Connell, leader of Company C of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment, was even a staunch Catholic who attended Mass at the San Lorenzo Mártir Church every day. He also imposed several restrictions on his troops that would prevent abuses against the natives (Connell was one of those who had the misfortune of being killed by Filipinos on 28 September 1901). What I’m trying to say here is that we should not treat history as merely black and white. All the players in this tragedy were humans, each had their own stories to tell. That is why it is difficult not to empathize with some US veterans and descendants of Company C who are still reluctant in returning the bells to us. To them, the troops sent to Balangiga were benign and tolerant, and that it was the natives who made the first move at violence. But then again, those troops had no business being there. Other than that, US policy is still strongly felt in our shores, even with President Duterte around. That is why it is impossible to say that what had happened in Balangiga is history. How can we say that it was all in the past when the aggressor is still within our midst? That is why diplomacy is needed (even if “artificial”), something our president is not that good at, especially towards the United States.

Lastly, as I have said earlier, there have been attempts in the past to have those bells returned. Former presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo both worked quietly to have them taken back, but nothing happened. So if those bells are not returned within Duterte’s presidency, the only president to have strongly asked for their return, I doubt that they ever will be.


This is my 25th blogpost. Thank you so much for patronizing EL FILIPINISMO. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. ¡Muchas gracias! ¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!

La visita del ARM Cuauhtémoc conmemora el Galeón de Manila

Hace unos días recibí una llamada de larga distancia de un argentino. Resulta que es uno de los lectores de mi bitácora desaparecida Alas Filipinas, y me llamó sólo para informarme que un buque mexicano está a punto de visitar Filipinas y se quedará aquí durante los primeros días de agosto. El bondadoso argentino dio el nombre del buque — es mexicano nativo y es un poco difícil de pronunciar. Incluso le pedí que me lo deletreara.

El nombre del buque es ARM Cuauhtémoc, un buque escuela que lleva el nombre del último emperador azteca.

Apodado como el “Embajador y Caballero de los Mares”, ARM Cuauhtémoc arribó el viernes al Puerto de Manila (South Harbor) para una visita de buena voluntad y actualmente está anclado en el muelle número 15. Marca su primer viaje a Manila ya que rinde homenaje al histórico Galeón de Manila, el nombre de las naves comerciales españoles que realizaban viajes de ida y vuelta una o dos veces al año a través del Océano Pacífico desde el puerto de Acapulco, Nueva España (hoy México) hasta Manila en Filipinas. Este primer comercio global existía por casi 250 años y ha producido cambios culturales que ayudaron a dar forma a la identidad nacional filipina.

La visita del ARM Cuauhtémoc también conmemora dos eventos significativos este año: su 35° aniversario (el buque fue asignado el 29 de julio de 1982) así como el centenario de la promulgación de la constitución mexicana.

ARM Cuauhtémoc permanecerá en nuestro país hasta el lunes y zarpará el dia siguiente. Todo el mundo está invitado a venir a bordo mientras que el buque todavía está atracado en nuestra bahía más famosa:

El día de hoy (6 de agosto): 10:00-20:00
Mañana (7 de agosto):         10:00-20:00

La visita de este buque es un gesto de bienvenida, un símbolo de nuestro rico pasado histórico con México, hermana de Filipinas. Hijas de Madre España.

24 June 1571: the birth of the “Filipino State”

Today, we commemorate the birth of the Filipino State. El estado filipino. The birth of our country. The birth of our national being. El nacimiento del ser filipino.

Manila was founded as a capital city on 24 June 1571 at the heart of what is now known as the Walled City of Intramuros, “la Manila de nuestros amores”. It should only follow that its declaration as a capital city 446 years ago implies that a state, a country —albeit under a much larger empire— was already in existence, has been readied, was in full swing.

446 years ago today, Miguel López de Legazpi established Manila as the capital city of Filipinas at this exact site. Legazpi became its first governor-general, in effect our country’s first national leader.

Filipinas was not born in 1872 nor in 1898. Filipinas was already in existence for more than 300 years. If only Manila could speak, she would have screamed this historical fact from the top of her lungs.

To Filipinas, la patria de mis amores, a grand salutation to your 446th founding anniversary!

(Pepe Alas)

dos palabras
de vigor
son emblemas
de platino
obras maestras
de fulgor.

en mi suelo,
Cruz y espada —
una mezcla
de nativo
e hispanista

Han cosido
las isletas
un collar,
y el colgante:
el enorme
la laguna
como el mar.

Y en el centro
de esta estrella
otra isleta
de puñal,
la piadosa
y Materna

¡Custodiar y difundir
y también enaltecer
esta lengua muy divina
cuya faena es proteger!

Preservar la identidad:
la cultura, nuestra fe,
¡elementos que alimentan
nuestro ser hispanidad!

dos palabras
de honor
son emblemas
de platino
¡obras maestras
de amor!

Derechos de reproducción © 2017
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.

¡Feliz 446° cumpleaños a mi patria adorada, Filipinas! Y que el espíritu de San Juan Bautista cuya fiesta también se celebra en este día bautice el pueblo filipino para que experimenten un nuevo despertar.

And yes, I’m back. Y sí, estoy de vueltaFor good. Definitivamente.

¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!