1. When Global Voices Summit delegates arrive in Cebu from different parts of the world this January, they will be repeating a historic voyage undertaken six centuries ago when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first circumnavigated the globe on behalf of the Spanish Crown.
This expedition by Magellan between 1519 and 1521 is also renowned as the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, and to sail across the latter, which Magellan himself named the “peaceful sea.” The Spanish king, Charles V, commissioned Magellan to search for another commercial route to Asia by travelling west.
Mactan Island in Cebu Province is the site where the Portuguese conquistador was killed by Filipinos led by Datu Lapu-Lapu during the historic Battle of Mactan Island on April 27, 1521. Of the original crew of 237 men who sailed in a fleet of 5 ships, only 18, aboard the ship Victoria, made it back to Seville, Spain to complete the journey in 1522.
2. The name Cebu originates from the ancient Cebuano term sibu which means barter or trade. The Island of Mactan got its name from the local word mangatang or pirate.
Before Spanish colonization, the harbors in the northeastern part of Cebu City (which we now call Parian) used to be called sinibu-ayng hingpit. This can be literally translated as “the place for full trading,” with merchants coming from as far as China, India, and Japan.
Cebu city was then called Sugbo, or scorched earth. The natives used to burn the town before fleeing into the hills to drive away invaders from the Sultanates in Mindanao, who scoured the rest of the islands of Philippine archipelago for slaves and plunder. Hence the original name Kang Sri Lumayng Sugbo, or “the scorched town of Sri Lumay”. Sri Lumay was Cebu's first ruler.
During the reign of Sri Lumay’s grandson Humabon, Lapu-Lapu, future ruler of Mactan Island, arrived from Borneo to settle north of Sugbo in Mandawili, or what is now known as Mandaue. When the rivalry between the two rulers intensified, Lapu-Lapu commanded his men to waylay the ships headed for the trading hub in Sugbo as they passed by Opong Island, across from Mandaue. The island thus became feared on account of its pirates or mangatang, which gave it the name Mactan.
3. The whole of Cebu enjoyed a brief period of independence from Spanish colonialism for little more than two months between the fleeing of the Spanish on December 1898 and the arrival of the US invaders on February 1899.
After 333 years of Spanish rule, Cebuanos won their freedom in the wake of the Katipunan revolutionary movement led by Andres Bonifacio. The movement began in Manila and surrounding provinces on August 23, 1896 and eventually spread to the rest of the country.
The anti-colonial armed struggle started with a bang in Cebu on April 3, 1898 with the Tres de Abril uprising in Cebu City. Skirmishes between Cebuano revolutionaries and Spanish forces continued until December 24, 1898, when the Spanish authorities in Cebu handed over power to a caretaker government composed of local mestizo elites and revolutionary leaders.
This independence was to be short-lived. The caretaker governor Pablo Mejia surrendered Cebu City to American forces on February 22, 1899. The rest of Cebu remained in Filipino hands under General Arcadio Maxilom. The Filipinos wages a fierce war of resistance until the surrender of Maxilom on October 27, 1901. Intermittent armed clashes were to continue until 1906.
4. The Second World War reduced Cebu City to ruins and rubble. But it was not the Japanese forces which destroyed much of the city—it was the Americans, who did extensive damage to the city through indiscriminate bombing runs during the supposed liberation of Cebu.
According to historians, the war set Cebu back by 25 years. With the destruction of buildings, industries, houses, agriculture, roads and bridges, it cost the government 10 billion pesos reconstruct the city.
5. Cebu City is known as the “Queen City of the South”. That title, however, was originally conferred upon Iloilo City in 1898 by no less the Queen of Spain.
Spanish Queen Regent Maria Cristina honored Iloilo City with the title La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad (Most Loyal and Noble City) on March 1, 1898. The title was given as a sign of gratitude for the Iloilo elite’s role in sending loyal volunteers to Luzon to help subdue the 1896 anti-Spanish revolt of the Katipunan. It was this pledge of loyalty to Spanish colonialism that earned Iloilo City the recognition as the Queen City of the South.
Cebu would adopt the title only later, with the city’s rapid economic growth after the Second World War and its evolution into the country’s second biggest urban center outside of Manila.
Marivir R. Montebon, Retracing Our Roots: A Journey into Cebu’s Precolonial and Colonial Past (Minglanilla: ES Villaver Publishing, 2000).
Policarpio F. Hernandez, Iloilo, the Most Noble City: History and Development 1566-1898 (Quezon City: New Day Publishers).
Resil B. Mojares, The War against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu 1899-1906 (Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1999)