INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON
Young historian finds Laguna birth date
SAN PEDRO, Laguna—To nonhistorians, 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 governor-general 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.
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 Laguna’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.
“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.
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