Much ado over Lapulapu’s statue

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales September 30,2019 - 06:54 AM

There is a petition going online right now to save the statue of Lapulapu standing since the early 1980s right there at the Liberty Shrine or what is popularly referred to as Mactan Shrine. My good friend of our activist days, Ahmed Cuizon, has been instrumental in this move to save it from being transferred into a museum being planned on site. 

It appears that Friday the 13th this month was not a good one for the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC). In the Visayas Stakeholders Meeting hosted on that day in Lapulapu City by the NQC, National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) chair and NQC vice-chair, Dr. Rene Escalante, mentioned in his report to the audience of some 150 representatives from all over the Visayas, that the statue would be replaced with something that reflects—and I am paraphrasing what I remember here—a more accurate historical depiction of the battle of Mactan. I do not recall him ever saying that there would be no Lapulapu in a future monument to replace this one. But it is that statement which started a backlash of sorts, coming expectedly from Oponganons like Ahmed. And, thus, the petition to save the statue. 

Statue of Lapulapu in the Liberty Shrine in Barangay Mactan, Lapu-Lapu City.

Let me give you the little that I know about this statue before we proceed. On April 28, 1979, a statue of Lapulapu, made of cement concrete on a steel frame, was unveiled following what I remember as the first reenactment of the Battle of Mactan, which at the time was called “Bahug-bahug sa Mactan” (today the reenactment is more appropriately called “Kadaugan sa Maktan”). Imelda Marcos is alleged to have visited the shrine a year later and did not like the way this statue looked so she decided to have it replaced I think in April 1981 with another version, also made of concrete cement and a steel frame, but now applied with gilding. As soon as this statue went up, whispers began to whirl that this Lapulapu looked like the American “B” movie actor, George Hamilton, who was linked mischievously, according to the grapevine, to Imelda at the time. Remember the country was still under Martial Law at this time and media suppression was still ongoing so that whispers and rumors became the way for such a naughty innuendo to come out. 

To be fair, I have seen the statue up close and I am not really sure if it looks like the American actor. What is certain is that this one appears to be the one that online petitioners want to save.

Looking at protection from the law in terms of the R.A. 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Law, this statue has not yet reached 50 years of age, the usual minimum requirement for saving a heritage site, monument or structure. In terms of aesthetics and other levels of significance, its value is open to debate. I am not even sure if anyone knows who the maker or sculptor of this statue was. We do not hear names of extreme significance behind its artistry, no national artist behind it, not even a national competition to go with it. The fact that Imelda Marcos was responsible for the statue, at a time when she was alleged (and unproven) to have been good friends with an American movie actor known for portraying Dracula, gives it some kind of historicity, notorious or otherwise. That it is a product of a dark period of our history gives us reason for pause. 

Thus, seen from the perspective of heritage law, there is nothing much standing in the way of persuading heritage advocates to campaign to save it. More so, because the NHCP has already stated that it will not destroy this statue but will give it a dignified place inside a museum showcasing the best of Cebuano culture before the coming of Magellan to be unveiled at the site during the 2021 Kadaugan sa Mactan.

So why are petitioners standing pat that this statue must be allowed to stay where it is standing now? Why are they unconvinced by the desire of the NHXP to build a national monument to replace this lone one? 

My take on this earnest campaign to save this 37-year-old statue is that the issue is not this very monument itself but that it serves as a vehicle to drive home an important point from Oponganons and Cebuanos at large: that is, that the NQC has somehow failed in the area of communication and in proper representation. Had someone from Lapu-Lapu City been sitting right there actively in the NQC, perhaps this issue of the statue and what would take its place would have been clarified early on. 

The NHCP, however, is now trying to address this discrepancy. Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement three weeks ago that he disdained from celebrating the Christian aspect of the Quincentennial, I was told by Dr. Escalante that a new executive order (E.O.) replacing the one originally signed a year ago by the president has been sent to his desk for signing. 

My understanding of this replacement E.O. is that it will, among others, add representatives into the NQC coming from the places crucial to the 2021 event, like Limasawa, Mactan and Cebu and perhaps even Mindanao where the remainder of Magellan’s fleet, led by Sebastian Elcano, stopped on their way back to Brunei and then Tidore in the Moluccas on their way to Spain.

Emotions are now running high among more committed stakeholders in Mactan regarding what is really going to happen come 2021. And the only way to avoid more confusion and misunderstanding—writ quite large by this much ado over a statue—is to ensure that plans and programs are grounded in more consultations and more local representation. 

Otherwise, I dread what will happen on April 27, 2021.

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