ON NOV. 13, 2019, the Basilica del Sto. Niño hosted the launching of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines. It is appropriate, since the church was designated by Pope Paul VI in 1965 as the “Mother and Head of all Churches in the Philippines.” The church, under the care of the Augustinian priests for centuries since Fray Andrés de Urdaneta, O.S.A. founded this on April 28, 1565, will therefore, be the center of the celebration.
The first global journey, of course, was led by Ferdinand Magellan and completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano in 1522. To mark the historical accomplishment (that proved that the world is not flat), a Spanish-made animated film, “Elcano and Magellan,” has been released for the 500th anniversary of that voyage. The trailer looks good, giving us a glimpse of the adventure of the explorers and a bit of love story between Elcano and a made-up character, Samar. Since it is created from the Spanish perspective, the protagonists are the two main characters, with villains that include Lapu-Lapu. It is the inclusion of the latter that has caused an uproar in the Philippines. Lapu-Lapu, a villain? No way, Jose!
The filmmakers must have had difficulty on how to present the Battle of Mactan, which saw the demise of Magellan, without igniting the cultural sensitivity of Filipinos towards the encounter. Out of curiosity, I’d want to view the movie, if only to see how the director managed to make the bloody encounter “child-friendly.”
If there are those who find the twisting of historical facts in “Elcano and Magellan offensive,” they should be. It may be the same reaction from European viewers, if they’ve seen films about Lapu-Lapu (Lamberto Avellana’s epic in 1955 and that of 2002 starring Lito Lapid) where Magellan is the antagonist. If there was a genius of a filmmaker who told of two perspectives of one battle, this was Clint Eastwood who directed “Flags of Our Fathers” (the American experience) and “Letters from Iwo Jima” (the Japanese perspective). Maybe, some producer will do the same for the Battle of Mactan.
The controversy brought about by the film “Elcano and Magellan,” in a way, can be seen positively—as bringing global media attention to the quincentennial celebration of the arrival of Christianity and the Sto. Niño in the Philippines.
Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the papal nuncio of the Vatican to the Philippines, in his homily, said, “The Sto. Niño also reminds us of our call to spread Christ throughout the world.” Five hundred years ago, Magellan brought Christianity to the Philippines; now Filipinos are all over the globe spreading the faith in a world that prefers to ignore God.