Young his­to­rian finds La­guna birth date

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON - By Maricar Cinco San Pe­dro, La­guna

TO NON HIS­TO­RI­ANS, it may sim­ply be a tri­fling topic, but the ques­tion that was said to have baf­fled even Gre­go­rio F. Zaide, who au­thored many text­books about Philip­pine his­tory, is se­ri­ous mat­ter to the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment: When was La­guna founded?

Jose Mario “Pepe” Alas, 33, wasn’t even look­ing for an an­swer when he saw the date—July 28, 1571—while re­search­ing for a cof­fee ta­ble book he was com­mis­sioned to write about the prov­ince.

“That was the ear­li­est date found even af­ter cross-check­ing with other his­tory books,” said Alas, a his­to­rian who keeps an an­tique col­lec­tion of Filip­ini­ana in his home in San Pe­dro town in La­guna.

In June, Alas was read­ing “His­to­ria Gen­eral de Filip­inas,” a book writ­ten in 1926 by Je­suit pri­est, Pablo Pastells, one of na­tional hero Jose Rizal’s pro­fes­sors, when he saw the date “28 julio 1571” on page 17 in a chart that listed the en­comien­das (land grants) dis­trib­uted by Span­ish gover­norgen­eral Miguel López de Legazpi.

“La La­guna,” which means “the la­goon,” re­ferred to the land mass around the lake re­gion. It was en­trusted as an en­comienda to Span­ish con­quis­ta­dor Martin de Goiti.

Long search

Alas and his book ed­i­tor, Ron­ald Yu, im­me­di­ately went to see Gov. Je­orge Ejercito to present the proof. “When I showed him the book, he ap­peared ex­cited. He even said he got goose bumps,” Alas re­called.

Sev­eral at­tempts had been made ear­lier to es­tab­lish Lagu- na’s found­ing date. Some par­ties even ex­plored archives in Spain, while a for­mer La­guna gover­nor of­fered a re­ward.

“I learned from the NHCP (Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion of the Philippine­s) that even the famed his­to­rian Gre­go­rio Zaide searched for it but to no avail,” said Alas, who has been pas­sion­ate about his­tory since child­hood.

Al­though the NHCP has yet to val­i­date Alas’ find. a pro­vin­cial board mem­ber, Neil No­con, who chairs the com­mit­tee on ed­u­ca­tion, tourism, his­tory, arts and cul­ture, had al­ready drafted a res­o­lu­tion declar­ing July 28 as La­guna’s of­fi­cial found­ing an­niver­sary.

‘Un­pa­tri­otic’

“I had expected a lot of peo­ple to dis­pute my claim. Who am I any­way? A no­body, who works in an IT (in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy) com­pany,” said Alas, who has made his­tory his pas­sion since child­hood.

A critic of Alas’ pa­per said La­guna was de­clared an en­comienda only on July 28, 1571, but it be­came a prov­ince in 1581 with Bay town as cap­i­tal. But even so, Alas ar­gued, La­guna was al­ready de­clared a “ju­ridi­cal en­tity.”

“Some peo­ple from the NHCP (also) found it un­pa­tri­otic to com­mem­o­rate some­thing that con­notes slav­ery,” he said, point­ing out that an en­comienda was a piece of land where an en­comendero ex­tracted la­bor from the na­tive set­tlers.

“I just hope they wouldn’t let their bi­ases come first. What could we do if that’s what the facts tell us?” he said.

A Univer­sity of the Philippine­s Los Baños his­tory pro­fes­sor, Dwight David Die­stro, said Alas’ claim had ba­sis. “In the ab­sence of any doc­u­ment (that chal­lenges Alas’ claim, Alas) was able to un­ravel some­thing worth rec­og­niz­ing,” Die­stro said in an ear­lier in­ter­view.

“What good comes out of this is that peo­ple are talk­ing (and) de­bat­ing on how to eval­u­ate his­tory (thus giv­ing them) a sense of ori­gin,” he said.

PHOTO RE­PRO­DUC­TION COUR­TESY OF RON­ALD YU ANDJOSE MARIO ALAS

“HIS­TO­RIA GEN­ERAL DE FILIP­INAS” In the chart, La La­guna was listed as an “en­comienda” en­trusted to Martin de Goiti on July 28, 1571. His­tory buff Jose Mario “Pepe” Alas main­tains a blog, www.fil­ipino­scrib­bles. word­press.com, where he posts his writ­ings...

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