6 popular ‘facts’ about Philippine history that are apparently wrong

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Various events and ideas commonly known to Filipinos as truths might actually not be. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — You might have heard of the 20th-century Filipino electrician Agapito Flores, who invented the fluorescent lamp and even had his creation’s name be derived from his last name to commemorate his efforts. You might have thought, however in passing, that such a fact was a great testament to Filipino ingenuity and our people’s ability to make an impact beyond our borders — if only it were indeed fact.

Fluorescence is actually a scientific property of light that has been acknowledged since the 16th century; the term was coined by 19th-century Irish physicist and mathematician George Gabriel Stokes, who wrote about how the mineral fluorspar makes ultraviolet light — which is typically unseen by the naked eye — visible. “Fluorescence” takes its name from fluorspar the same way “opalescence” takes its name from opals.

While the Agapito Flores myth doesn’t take away the excellence of Filipinos whose contributions to various fields are as real as can be, it is a common example of various events and ideas popularly known to us as truths when they might not be. Below are six other common, but wrong, beliefs among Filipinos — and the histories and facts surrounding them.

Princess Urduja is a mere legend, and not a historical figure.

According to legend, the Filipino heroine Princess Urduja ruled an island called Tawalisi in the 14th century. She led a group of warrior women called Kinalakihan, or the Amazons, across battlefields, and was known for her kindness and intelligence. She is said to have taken no husband because she would only choose a man who was braver, wiser, and stronger than she was, and nobody had enough guts to try to beat her in battle. However, it’s also believed by many that Urduja actually existed — as there were records of her in the accounts of Moroccan traveler and scholar Ibn Battuta. A common theory is that Tawalisi was located in what is now known as Pangasinan, although common guesses for the princess’ native home also include Java, Cambodia, and China.

Lapu-Lapu killed Ferdinand Magellan.

Even first-graders know Lapu-Lapu, the ruler of Mactan who is also the first Philippine hero. He led his men to win the battle of Mactan against Portuguese colonizer Ferdinand Magellan (who probably preferred to be called “explorer” and, by the way, obviously did not “discover” the Philippines), and is usually said to have killed Magellan in the fight. The image may inspire nationalism, but the truth is, it’s impossible to tell whether Magellan did lose his life directly at the hands of Lapu-Lapu, who may be less young and vital than he is commonly depicted.

Jose Rizal wrote “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” in his childhood.

The poem “Sa Aking Mga Kabata,” written in Tagalog about embracing one’s native language, is often attributed to Dr. Jose Rizal, who supposedly wrote it when he was seven years old — “proof,” according to some, of his precocious nature and love of country. Historians such as Ambeth Ocampo, however, have researched and written in opposition of this, stating that there’s no evidence (whether it be a manuscript, a published byline, or an assertion from Rizal himself) supporting Rizal’s authorship of the work. In addition to this, Rizal did not have a strong enough command of Tagalog to match the fluency of the poem.

The viral love letter “Liham Para Kay Oryang” was written by Andres Bonifacio.

In 2015, the work of epistolary fiction “Liham Para Kay Oryang,” written by playwright Eljay Castro Deldoc as though it were a letter from Andres Bonifacio to his wife Gregoria de Jesus a few nights before he was killed, went viral on social media and reached far enough that people began to believe Bonifacio had actually written it. It was romantic and relayed the urgency of love and loss during wartime — but it was just the writer’s interpretation of historical events. On that note, a real poem written by Gregoria de Jesus, titled “Magmula, Giliw, Nang Ikaw ay Pumanaw,” was verified by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Talking about her grief over losing Bonifacio, it was copied by hand by her second husband Julio Nakpil, and is now on display in the Bahay-Nakpil museum.

Fernando Poe Sr. served as the model for the Oblation.

Commissioned for the University of the Philippines by then-president Rafael Palma and funded by the enrollees in 1935, the iconic statue known as the Oblation, or simply Oble, was created by Guillermo E. Tolentino and based on Rizal’s poem “Mi Ultimo Adios.” The symbol and touchstone of any UP campus is often said to have taken its physique from actor-director Fernando Poe, Sr., who was a UP student at the time of its creation; however, records show that Anastacio Caedo, a student assistant of Tolentino’s, and Caedo’s brother-in-law Virgilio Raymundo served as the models and references. Another fact that might not be all that well known? The original sculpture is located not in front of Quezon Hall along UP Diliman’s University Avenue, but instead inside Gonzales Hall.

The yo-yo was invented by ancient Filipinos.

It’s too simple to say the yo-yo was invented by a Filipino, and it’s almost impossible to determine its true origins: it traces its existence back to ancient Greece and arrived in Europe in the 1800s, long before it was trademarked and sold en masse in America. But in the late 1920s, a Filipino bellboy named Pedro Flores, who had traveled to the United States in hopes of studying law, innovated a stringing method that elevated the yo-yo from being a simple toy to the type we all know and can do tricks with today. He mass-produced his creation and established a yo-yo manufacturing company, but eventually sold the rights.