14 April 1993
                                                                          40 or 438?

    Much as we welcome the efforts of Ambassador Vicente Luis Coca Alvarez of Mexico to remind us of our ties with his people, we have mixed feelings about his emphasis on the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.
    We ask: "Why speak of 40 years when we should be speaking of 438? Why speak of a relationship between states when we should be speaking of a relationship between peoples?''
    Of course, the ambassador is the first one to remind us of the many years in which Mexico and the Philippines were linked by the galleons that plied between Manila and Acapulco.
    He describes the galleon trade as taking place during "the Spanish era in both countries" -- and here, we beg to disagree with the ambassador. The Spanish era in Mexico was the Mexican era in the Philippines: up to the time Mexico became independent, Spain governed the Philippines through Mexico; during this period, the Philippines was to all intents and purposes a colony more of Mexico than of Spain.
    Most Filipinos, however, remain under the impression that the Philippines was governed directly from Spain throughout the Spanish period -- and that the galleons brought only Asian goods to Acapulco and Mexican silver to Manila. In fact, the galleons also carried government directives and reports back and forth.
    While most of us know that Spanish rule was established in the Philippines by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, few of us recall that the Legazpi expedition (like the Saavedra and Villalobos expeditions that preceded it) were outfitted in Mexico. We continue to regard Legazpi and his navigator Fray Andres de Urdaneta as Spaniards even though a good case can be made for their being Spanish immigrants to Mexico who intended to live and die there -- and, for this reason, could be regarded as Mexicans.
    When Legazpi was named to head the expedition, he had lived for more than 29 years in Mexico. Urdaneta, who served as an assistant to Sebastian de Elcano in the Loaisa expedition, sailed in 1538 for the New World in the fleet of Governor Pedro Alvarado of Guatemala. Urdaneta commanded troops in Mexico, was named to such positions as corregidor, visitor and even admiral of the fleet. When he entered the Augustinian order in 1552, it was clear that he intended to live the rest of his life in the New World.
    Similarly, the 350 men who sailed with Legazpi in the San Pedro, San Pablo, San Juan and San Lucas were men of Nueva Espana, not Mother Spain.
    Once we start thinking of Legazpi and his men as Mexicans, not Spaniards, our entire attitude toward Philippine-Mexican relations changes: it is Mexico, not Spain, that made the Philippines part of the known world; it is Mexico, not Spain, that carried out the mandate to predicar, pacificar y poblar [preach, bring peace and colonize] the Philippines.
    The achievement of the Legazpi expedition was not reaching the Philippines (after all, Magellan, Loaisa, Saavedra and Villalobos had done it), but in finding the route back to Mexico. Without such a westward route, no communication back and forth across the Pacific was possible.
    The discovery of the westward route -- the route taken by the galleons and the ships of all nations that plied the Pacific during the age of sail -- is Urdaneta's signal achievement. For this reason, the most appropriate date for marking Philippine-Mexican relations is not April 14, 1953, when diplomatic ties were established, and not even Nov. 21, 1564, when Legazpi's fleet sailed out La Navidad. The most appropriate date is Oct. 8, 1565, when Urdaneta in the San Pedro arrived in Acapulco, completing the westward passage.
    Why speak of only 40 years when we could speak of 438?