LIMASAWA, Southern Leyte- This country’s officially recognized by the Philippine government as the site of the First Easter Mass that happened 497 years ago will soon have a modern seaport that can accommodate fast crafts and bigger passenger boats.
Limasawa Mayor Melchor Pertacorta told ClaireDelfinMedia the entire Limasawa Port Modernization Program is dubbed Limasawa Port Development Project that includes construction of cause-way, backup area, and passenger terminal building.
“The whole project cost is P70 million and has two phases. The first phase started last December 28, 2017. Funding comes from Department of Transportation (DOTr) and implemented by Department of Tourism and Presidential Management Staff (PMS),” Pertacorta said.
“Limasawa Port Development has long been our dream so that fast crafts or bigger boats can already dock here in Limasawa as we have increasing numbers of visitors, some are pilgrims and local and foreign tourists. Some are also local and foreign media who take TV footage of our first mass national shrine and the big cross planted by Magellan and his men on top a mountain here,” Petracorta added.
Petracorta claimed that there are already two lodging houses and one hotel existing in this island town of Southern Leyte.
“Sea trips through passenger motorized bancas from Burgos town to here in Limasawa are available four times a day since we passed a resolution addressed to Marina (Maritime Industry Authority) to increase boat trips due to enormous requests,” Petracorta claimed.
“As of now, we are passing a municipal resolution, requesting Marina to fix schedules and fares,” he added.
Currently, some passenger boats collect P50.00 as a one-way fare from each passenger, while others are collecting P100. Moreover, the number of hours of boat trip from Burgos has been reduced from one hour to 30 to 40 minutes.
Huge Preps for 5th Centenary
Meanwhile, Petracorta said huge preparations are underway for the celebration of 500 years of Catholicism and Christianity in the Philippines.
“We are expecting huge delegations from Spain, Mexico and other foreign countries and states, including the Vatican. That’s why we are stepping up our preparations” concluded Petracorta.
Republic Act No. 2733, passed by Philippine Congress in 1960, declared Limasawa as the official site of the first mass and declaring the island as a national shrine.
In 1996, the National Historical Institute, after a two-year study, reaffirmed the 1960 law.
Debates rage on
But Butuan advocates wanted re-opening of the study, claiming newly found pieces of evidence.
Pastor Christopher V. Luaya, a preacher of the Seventh Day Adventist who is also a professor of history, culture, and theology, claimed that based on his studies and research, he is convinced that the first mass was not held in Limasawa but in Mazaua which is now the present Butuan on March 31, 1521.
“But where exactly in present Butuan? The exact location? We all don’t know. As Butuan in 1521 which includes Magallanes, Agusan del Norte and the rest of Agusan and Surigao provinces were all part of then Butuan and Calagan kingdoms mentioned by Antonio Pigafetta (who chronicled the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan) and all other eight accounts. That is what we must conduct further, carefully research with an open mind based on evidence, not just hearsays or unsubstantiated claims,” Pastor Luaya said.
He claimed that there is no other account available that is reliable than the account of Pigafetta who mentioned Butuan and Calagan Kingdoms ruled by two Kings, Rajah Siau or Siagu, the King of Butuan and Rajah Colambu whom Magellan and Pigafetta dined with and who attended the mass.
He added that while he is not a Catholic, “the search for the truth about the first mass is a duty for every Christian” like him where the center and focus of faith was Christ.
“ It would be even meaningless to celebrate 500 years of Catholicism in our country if the question and doubts still hang on —where really is the genuine site of the First Catholic Mass in the Philippines. It must be corrected before March 31, 2021,” Luaya concluded.
Luaya also found an ally in Prof. Wenceslao Ecoben of the Asian Social Institute of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod Ng Muntinlupa.
Ecoben said he is convinced based on his studies and research, Limasawa is not the site of the first mass but Mazaua based on both the accounts of Pigafetta and Magellan’s pilot, Francisco Albo.
He said Antonio Pigafetta described Mazaua in his logbook where the first mass was held at a place that “has great quantity of dogs, cats, pigs, fowls, and goats, rice, ginger, cocos, figs, oranges, lemons, millet, wax, and gold mines. Their houses, especially the palace, he described, was built on great timbers high above the ground, and it was necessary to go up the steps and ladders to it.”
Ecoben said that the descriptions of Pigafetta and that of Magellan himself in his own logbook about Masao, one can say that, Masao was a place rich in natural resources, like timber, gold, with fertile land for crops, bananas, rice, and animals. “And you can only find gold in Butuan, not in Limasawa.”
Ecoben further pointed to Pigafetta’s account, which reads, “at the morning we came to anchor at this island, we saw a small boat which they call Boloto…. Two hours afterward, we saw come two long boats, which they call Ballanghai, full of men.”
Through this, Ecoben concluded: “The word balangahi as mentioned in the chronicle of Pigafetta had been affirmed. There existed a long boat, Balanghai, through the discovery of buried balanghais in Barangay Libertad, near Masao, Butuan City which has not been found in Limasawa.”
He called for NHI, now Philippine National Historical Commission, and the Philippine Congress to take a second look of their earlier decisions.