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The Battle of Mactan
by The FHL Research Team
Date: 3/31/2006

More than four centuries ago, a hero by the name of Lapu-Lapu successfully defended the country from domination for the very first time.

It's been exactly 485 years since the Battle of Mactan—more popularly known as the battle between Lapu-Lapu and Ferdinand Magellan. It was the first demonstration of the Filipino natives’ resistance to foreign conquest.

On April 5, 1521, the Spanish conquistadors led by Ferdinand Magellan, arrived in Cebu (popularly known by natives then as Zubu). Magellan succeeded in converting the chief of Cebu, Datu Humabon and his wife into Christianity. With the Spaniards’ display of power, the natives were both amazed and afraid of such superiority that they were made to submit to the Spaniards’ demands easily. All other chiefs except Lapu-Lapu were also converted to Christianity and were easily made to swear allegiance to Spain.

Lapu-Lapu (Caliph Pulaka) was the chief of Bulaia, the biggest village in Mactan Island. As a leader, his constituents very well respected him. He was known as a courageous leader and a skilled warrior, who considered no one as his lord and superior.

Unlike the other chiefs, Lapu-Lapu did not embrace the ideas presented by the Spaniards. He was disturbed when he heard of the activities of Magellan and how the Spaniards easily succeeded in converting the natives to Christianity and were made to swear allegiance to Spain. What bothered him most were the abuses committed by the Spaniards against the women. Upon knowing that Lapu-Lapu’s resistance would be a hindrance to their goals, Magellan decided that there was indeed a need to use force against Lapu-Lapu.

On the dawn of April 27, 1521, Magellan’s expedition reached the island of Mactan. Upon arrival, Magellan sent an ultimatum to Lapu-Lapu through an emissary: “…if they would obey the king of Spagnia, recognize the Christian king as their sovereign and pay tribute, he would be their friend but if they wished otherwise, they should wait to see how their lances wounded…” In response, Lapu-Lapu said that “…we too have lances of bamboo and stakes hardened with fire and that we are ready to fight to the end…”

Lapu-Lapu was well prepared for the war. He positioned his men of about 1,500 against Magellan’s 49 soldiers. They were armed with bows and arrows, and spears with points hardened by fire or tipped with metal. In the beginning, Magellan thought of his coming fight with Lapu-Lapu as a sort of an exhibition to show the natives of the Spaniards’ fighting skills. He underestimated the capabilities of the natives for he had undergone so many battles in other places. Magellan, who was hit on the leg with a poisoned arrow, never thought that it would be the last battle of his life.

In honor of Lapu-Lapu, the town of Opon on Mactan Island in Cebu province was renamed to Lapu-Lapu City. An early Church of Lapu-Lapu can be seen near the shoreline facing Mandaue City. At present, the heroism of Lapu-Lapu is commemorated through the celebration of the “Lapu-Lapu Day” in the province of Cebu on the 27th of April of each year. May the name Lapu-Lapu remind us more of the gallantry of our heroic ancestor, instead of the similarly named fish that we eat today.


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