‘Mandar a Manila!’

Mandar a Manila!”, – literally , “Send to Manila!” – was a verdict slightly better than a death sentence. While researching at the Mexican National Archives in the 1980’s, I came across letters written by mothers to the Viceroys of Mexico, begging them not to exile their sons to Manila. As late as the 19th century, the Philippine colony was still the ends of the earth for the “novohispanos” in Mexico; there were rumblings from fabulists of the horrors of tropical Manila and the perils of crossing the Pacific Ocean.

We know about the Mexican brothers Epimerio and Epigenio Gonzalez from a paper presented by historian Andres del Castillo in 1997 (refer to my column “Tale of two ‘infidentes,’ 31 Oct. 2017). They figured prominently in Mexico’s anti-colonial revolution against Spain. Emiterio died here. As for Epigenio, he returned to Mexico after 28 years and was given a hero’s welcome by Nicolas Bravo, the 11th president of the Mexican republic.

According to Filipino historian Dr. Carlos Quirino, there were also native indios exiled to Mexico, the first being the valiant Magat Salamat, son of Lakandula of Tondo, and four of his followers. After the first revolt against Spain, Governor-General Santiago de Vera exiled them to Mexico in 1588. There were others mentioned by Dr. Quirino: Gabriel Tuambacan, Francisco Aeta, a certain Luis and his son Calao, both without surnames; Claveria had not issued his famous decree that gave us all surnames. They were all shipped to Mexico but no one knows what became of them. There were Filipino indios who could be described as voluntary exiles, those who jumped ship as soon as the galleons arrived in the ports of Acapulco and San Blas.

You may have noticed the bust of General Jose San Martin behind the monument of Legazpi and Urdaneta, beside Cuba’s hero, Jose Martí. Gen.  San Martin was the liberator of Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador and fought side-by-side with Simon Bolivar. Amazingly, there are Filipino descendants of Gen. San Martin’s brother living here in Manila. Mayor Alfredo Lim used to invite them to attend the ceremonies in honor of the general. Was his brother exiled to the Philippines for being an “infidente”? We have to find out because his descendants do not seem to know. There were attempts by Mexicans and other Latin Americans to include the Philippines in their anti-colonial movements against Spain; the first one occurred in 1823 with the Novales mutiny, the second in 1835. However, the Filipinos were not ready.

Strange as it may seem, there are no direct flights between Mexico and Manila to this day. To think that galleons sailed across the Pacific for 250 years, directly from Mexico to Manila and back with stopovers in Guam and the Marianas. It may have taken them several months to do so but the connection was direct. Since I returned to the Philipines in 1990 (after an 18-year self-exile in Mexico), I have been visiting my “segunda patria” every year because my daughter and her family live there. Depending on the airline I take, I usually have to fly to Taiwan, then to San Francisco or Los Angeles before finally arriving in MexicoCity. It is a tiring journey and how I wish there were direct flights. In a few days, I shall leave for Mexico again, and this time I will try the Tokyo-Mexico route, which is as direct as you can get.