Lapu-Lapu City: A Mactan travelogue in the age of Covid-19
By Emmanuel Rivera, RRT
Mon, 03 May 2021
April 27, 2020 (Mactan in retrospect)
It was the dawn of a typical summer day in the city named after the greatest hero "Made in the Philippines" - Lapulapu.
The tropical breeze seemed to be in concert with the waves waxing, waning, rippling and inviting anyone awake to go for a swim. One can almost feel the calm before the battle fought on these shores over four hundred ninety-nine years ago. One wonders, if the fight was held today, will the combatants be required to don face masks, face shields, PPE’s and hand sanitizers to achieve their goals? Will it be live on Pay-per-View, public television PTV or social media? In the age of Covid-19, there are more questions than answers, more bad jokes than good jests.
Break of dawn at Mactan (JPark Island Resort, April 27, 2020).
Capitancillo Island (Bogo City, Northern Cebu, March 2020).
The entire archipelago, particularly Cebu province, has been alternately on ECQ, GCQ & MECQ---community quarantines of varying degrees of lockdown. Only essential travels are permitted with required quarantine passes and everyone is subject to search and seizure at checkpoints; this to contain the spread of Covid-19 and its culprit---the virus SARS-CoV-2.
Liberty Shrine (Lapu-Lapu City, 2020).
The annual celebration and re-enactment of Kadaugan sa Mactan, Victory in Mactan, usually broadcasted via television, radio and social media has been cancelled and the usual celebrations were scaled down to a somber wreath laying ceremony.
JPark Island Resort, Mactan 2020.
Today, it has been almost a month since the staff at JPark Island Resort welcomed my party of two. Despite everyone's hospitality, our daily sense of life and leisure were interspersed with regret and doubt. What drove me into taking a 21-day vacation in an island one can easily read about in a travel magazine and a country my family visited twice in thirty-seven years? It seems foolish of me to complain what with my villa suite and private pool while millions here and abroad are scraping by---no work, no pay was the recurring and depressing theme in the news.
Battle of Mactan Official Painting (Liberty Shrine, Lapu-Lapu City).
Ferdinand Magellan’s Cross (near Sugbo Plaza, Cebu City).
Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu.
Santo Niño carving on stone (Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu).
It is with hope that, as a collective whole in the face of this Covid-19 pandemic, (just like the Ryan Cayabyab song) we heal as one. A solemn prayer is offered for the combatants of the “Fight of the Last Five Centuries” - led by Lapulapu and the Oponganon warriors defeating the mighty Spanish Armada de Moluca led by Portuguese Captain General Ferdinand Magellan.
Radisson Blu, Cebu City.
Retracing the steps in my three-hour tour (plus four months) in Cebu and the Isle of Mactan reminds me of the graciousness of the locals. Cebu deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list.
Mactan International Airport (2020).
The dream started out as a Luz-Vi-Minda adventure, i.e. seven days each in the main islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao with a boxing twist. It was supposed to be a time to connect with fellow Pinoy scribes and aficionados of boxing in their element. There was Philboxing.com and PinoyGreats.com editor-in-chief Mr. Dong Secuya who received my son Grant and I at the Mactan International Airport on March 13, 2020.
“Welcome to Cebu. I thought you were going to cancel your visit,” he said as we were checking in at the Radisson Blue in the Mabolo district and intoned, ”The President has ordered a lockdown of the entire country. Your flight was one of the last ones inbound.”
Port of Cebu (a view from the 10th floor of the Radisson Blu).
Plan A morphed into B, C and D, rather quickly. Gone in my itinerary was, in order, Davao, Samal Island, Sarangani, Baguio, Manila and the Gabriel “Flash” Elorde awards night we were to attend. Cebu at the 10th floor hotel room at the Radisson Blu was home base for the next 30 days. The Port of Cebu was quite possibly the first meeting point between Rajah Humabon and Ferdinand Magellan.
Sinulog Prayer Ladies who sang for our departed (Magellan’s Cross Monument and the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, March 18, 2020).
There must have been Divine intervention at play, for we met friends who shared our doubt and uncertainty caused by the burgeoning pandemic. Like them, we were going to be survivors, no matter what.
Ferdinand Magellan Memorial (Fernando Magallanes) at the Liberty Shrine, Mactan.
(L-R) Emmanuel Rivera and PCol. Limuel Obon, Region 7 Commando.
On April 1st, after a month in the historic downtown Cebu City, I accepted the suggestion and kind invitation of the Obon family (PCol. Limuel and Diane) by way of the Meneses tribe (Marco of Dagupan, Pamela of Davao, Marty and Dana) to change venues.
“You and your son Grant will like Mactan. We do not know how long the lockdown would last. We’ve made arrangements for you to be in a wonderful place,” they said with care and concern.
When someone who knows the terrain offers an option that might save your vacation, if not your life, one should take it. So, to Mactan we went.
Tops Lookout, Cebu City (Mandaue City and Mactan in the background).
“If you’ve never been you must go and meet Lapulapu in Mactan at least once in your lifetime,” my late father once said noting that it was all work and no play for this respiratory therapist. “Find the time. And while you’re there, appreciate and enjoy the hospitality of the Visayan people. In their blood flows the DNA of the greatest fighter the world has ever known, the master of hurling the fire-hardened spear the Visayans call BANGKAW---the most likely weapon that vanquished the Spanish invaders.”
That plus a copy of Antonio Pigafetta’s book, and perhaps my need for some soul-searching led me to this magical place once known as Mattan, Mactan, Opon and now Lapu-Lapu City.
Most (if not all) businesses, libraries, museums and tourism offices were closed but I need not search far and wide to learn of the famous battle and the protagonists of the Battle of Mactan. I have read Mr. Pigafetta’s diary time and again and all I needed was my imagination to ignite my own Kadaugan sa Mactan (Victory at Mactan).
Antonio Pigafetta’s Report of the first voyage around the world… Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo (1524-1525) is the main first account source of the first world circumnavigation. His work has shown the world of the generosity of the Visayans by welcoming and helping feed an emaciated motley crew of the Armada de Moluca as they arrived at the shores of Homonhon, Limasawa and Cebu. Through Pigafetta’s writings, the Visayan language was introduced to the world.
We can read about a place like Mactan, take photos of statues of past heroes, but nothing compares to meeting their descendants in the place their courage was made known. The time my son and I had in Cebu, particularly Cebu City, has enriched my viewpoint that Lapulapu’s blood is indeed in our genetic profile. It is up to us to harness the innate courage and fearlessness we are wired for.
Brian Bonbon, tattoo artist and budding painter of Lapu-Lapu City, fervently believes we are all descendants of Lapulapu. His maiden voyage in painting is a rendition of 104-year-old Filipina Whang-od Oggay of the Kalinga tattooing style in the tradition of the Pintados. His unfinished painting called Warriors of Mactan depicts our hero Lapulapu resembling another modern-day hero and humanitarian named Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao.
Warriors of Mactan, Unfinished (Brian Bonbon, April 27, 2021).
For many, like Rudy Teodosio, Lapulapu is the first Filipino.
For fellow NBA scribe Tom Macasaet Lapulapu embodies the traits we are known for---courage, strength and resilience.
The Oponganon victory against the mighty Armada de Armada de Moluca on April 27, 1521 led by Captain General Ferdinand Magellan on these very shores has inspired subsequent Filipino heroes who sacrificed their lives for love of God, country and fellow man against forces they’ve never seen, heard of nor felt beforehand.
We, as Filipinos, should not forget the contributions of Dr. Jose Rizal who drew inspiration from Lapulapu as he wrote his novels Noli mi Tangere and El Filibusterismo---literature that galvanized the psyche of a nation and catalyzed the Philippine Revolution against the Spaniards.
The list of Filipino heroes is not long enough. We will always have the memories of Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Emilio Aguinaldo, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Antonio Luna, Melchora Aquino and Gabriela Silang.
Frontliners by Jun Aquino, Enshrinee, West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame.
It is only fair to give credit to our modern-day heroes we collectively call Frontliners---nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, dentists, radiology technicians, CNA’s, LPN’s, LVN’s, laboratory technicians and scientists, phlebotomists, Covid-19 tracers, janitors, garbage collectors, sanitation workers, hotel and restaurant personnel, service industry workers and the armed forces here in the Philippines and abroad risking their likes daily to care for and protect the sick.
Datu Lapulapu’s countenance as depicted on his statue at Liberty Shrine is now etched in my mind’s eye forever. I will tell my children and grandchildren of the fearless Filipino warrior who was the first to fight for our land and forever be on the lookout with his sword to defend and shield to protect our people.
Historians will forever debate his place in the pantheon of Dakilang Filipino but his resolve will always remain unquestioned.
Lapulapu’s indomitable spirit lives on in the gracious hearts and resilient minds of the Oponganons, Visayans, Cebuanos and all Filipino friends my son Grant and I had the honor of meeting during our short stay in Lapu-Lapu City.
Emmanuel Rivera, BS, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS Registered Respiratory Therapist Neonatal, Pediatric and Adult Critical Care Specialist
(L-R) Emmanuel Rivera, Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan and Mrs. Jean Chavez Balbuena.
(L-R) Emmanuel Rivera, Randy Nudalo Carriaga, Retchie Casinillo, Marvin Moralde Lauron, Julito Amantillo Catipay.
Frontliners: Firefighters of the Mabolo Fire Sub Station, Mabolo District, Cebu City, Philippines (led by Fire Marshall, SF03 Emiliano M. Daño, Jr. (His last name perhaps has a link to the Lapulapu bloodline).
Image of Lapulapu graces the Philippine National Police coat of arms.
(L-R) Grant Rivera and Edito “Ala” Villamor holding Francisco Guilledo’s Album (ALA BOXING GYM).
The Staff and residents of the Home Care Center for Children (Lapu-Lapu City Juvenile Center)
All photos on this article are from the author. No copyright is intended.
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