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Historians Rediscover Magellan-Led Voyage to Palawan in a Landmark Study

A landmark study suggests Magellan’s crew made crucial stops in Palawan.
ILLUSTRATOR Wikimedia Commons
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Very little is known about what happened in the days that followed the death of Ferdinand Magellan in Mactan. But Filipino historians believe the Spanish voyagers made several landings in Palawan, where they were attacked by the local Tagbanwas. 

Professor Michael Angelo Doblado, a historian based in Palawan, presented his study to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in an online seminar on July 20. His study is unprecedented and his findings could rewrite history.

The Attack of the Tagbanuas

For his study, Doblado used primary sources or the first-hand accounts of three men who survived the Battle of Mactan. They were Antonio Pigafetta who is the official chronicler of Magellan’s voyage, Francisco Albo or "The Unknown Portuguese", and Gaspar Correa, “The Genoese Pilot.”

After their defeat at the very lopsided the Battle of Mactan (Magellan’s force of 50 faced Lapu-Lapu’s 1,500 battle-hardened warriors), some of the surviving soldiers fled back to Cebu, where they were poisoned by Rajah Humabon, who Magellan earlier befriended. 

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After that, history books tell us that Juan Sebastian Elcano took over the command of the ship and completed Magellan’s voyage around the world. 

What history books failed to tell us is the Palawan voyage of Elcano and the remaining crew. Most sources just state that the surviving crew merely passed by Palawan, and nothing more. 

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According to Doblado, the Spanish expedition anchored at the town of Aborlan but failed to make landing because they were attacked by the Tagbanuas. The Tagbanuas are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Philippines and are considered descendants of the first humans to settle in the Philippines tens of thousands of years ago. 

“Aborlan ang first na anchorage, nagbaba ng angkla, huminto ang barko, ‘yon ang Aborlan area. In their first attempt to lay anchor and land at the Old Arbolan area, they were approaching the shore when a group of natives attacked them with spears,” said Doblado. 

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Landing Sites in Palawan

In the traditional understanding of the route taken by the Magellan and his crew’s voyage around the world, it can be seen how crucial stops in Palawan were missed. Textbooks and online sources state that the surviving crew made its way southward into Indonesia before finally crossing the Indian Ocean after the Battle of Mactan. 

Incomplete: Magellan's Alleged Route Around the World

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
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But in Doblado’s research, clues from Pigafetta’s, Albo’s and Correa’s journals were pieced together and revealed that the men made several stops in Palawan before they could sail westward. The clues included map coordinates and descriptions of Palawan towns using their old names. 

Doblado found that the three chroniclers were referring to Pulot, Brooke’s Point, Bataraza, and Balabac. 

Doblado details what likely happened after the Battle of Mactan. 

“From Bohol, they sailed south to Mindanao, specifically they went around Mindanao and reached Zamboanga. At that point, they were low on supplies and were on survival mode,” said Doblado. 

“We think they got the chance to ask around for a place that had plenty of resources [so they could resupply], and the locals directed them west,” said Doblado, explaining how the sailors ended up in Palawan. 

Below are the anchorage points and landing places the crew made in Palawan. 

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Magellan's Crew's Stops in Palawan

Photo by Google Earth.


“So far, we are 100 percent sure that they made landing at  Brooke’s Point, Balabac, and Bataraza,” said Doblado. 

According to Doblado, the waters around Palawan had a reputation for sinking ships. 

“Palawan is notorious for its many reefs in which ships can run aground, especially if the waves are strong. The nearest shelter was the Bay of Islands or Bahia de las Islas, which has a cove and several islands in front of Pulot. That is where they first attempted to land,” said Doblado. 

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Dobaldo also revealed that the crew indeed ran aground at a place called Bibalon, which is the old name of Balabac. 

“They ran aground in Bibalon, which is the old name of Balabac. In the islands between Bibalon and Simbonon,” said Doblado. 

Bibalon was the third landing they made in Palawan. Because of the damage on their ship, the crew had to make a final stop at Bataraza so they could find raw materials to repair the ship and resupply their stocks. 

Historical Markers Pushed

Currently, Doblado is working closely with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the municipalities of Brooke’s Point, Balabac, and Bataraza to erect historical markers representing the crucial stops in Palawan made by the Magellan-led voyage.

The landmark study is the first of its kind and could potentially rewrite world history.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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