Quest for Paleolithic Camotes I

(This is Part I of the follow-up to the special report entitled “Reviewing Cebu History” that I wrote for The Freeman and came out from Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 1993. This came out on Nov. 4, 1993–Candido O. Wenceslao)

“We have enough basis to reopen the question on where the encounter between Magellan and Lapulapu really took place,” so said Prof. Jerome Bailen of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines (UP).

Bailen made the statement as he summed up the result of the gruelling three-day initial survey of possible archaeological sites by a four-member team of UP anthroplogists in the municipality of Poro in the islands of Camotes from October 26-28.

The survey, which was joined by a two-man team from The Freeman, was a scientific attempt to look into the diggings by treasure hunters primarily in the village of Maktang in Esperanza in 1973-74 and in 1991.

It was prompted by a request made by Poro government officials led by Mayor Isaar Rama and Councilor Ronald Carcellar for authorities to look deeply into the significance of the artifacts found in the area in the light of the claim that the battle between Spanish navigator Ferdinand Magellan and Lapulapu happened in Maktang and not in the present Mactan Island.

The request, the claim and the find was amply discussed in an exclusive three-part special report in The Freeman entitled “Reviewing Cebu History” which ran from August 30 to September 1 this year.

That special report, an enlargement of an episode in Channel 3’s Magandang Gabi Bayan that also tackled the Camotes find, was picked up by the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other media outlets here and abroad and sparked some discussion.


Bailen first expressed interest on the controversy when he first ran into the Inquirer report and the subsequent reactions from readers. Unknown to him, Poro town officials and the office of Provincial Board Member Agnes Magpale of the fifth district of Cebu had started calling experts, notably from the National Museum and UP, to conduct a study on the Camotes find.

Bailen himself was no stranger to controversies. With anthropologist Israel Cabanilla, curator of the UP antropology museum, Bailen chaired in 1987 an international conference of well-known figures in anthropology that exposed the Tasaday hoax.

The Tasadays were supposedly “discovered” in 1971 and was vigorously promoted as a tourist attraction by then Panamin chief Manuel “Manda” Elizalde. They were portrayed as a band of 24 people who lived in the caves of a highly forested gorge in South Cotabato.

As remnants of a “stone age” people never previously reached by modern civilization, the Tasadays reportedly survived mainly by gathering food from streams and forests. They were therefore “primitive” people whose culture was meant for present society to study in all its pristine glory.

The conference exposed the “stone age” Tasaday as a hoax after a serious study was conducted on their actual living condition. The conclusion reached caught the ire of Elizalde, who filed and lost a multimillion-peso libel suit against Bailen and another anthropologist.

Bailen had his first training in scientific excavation in 1962 when he participated in one of the more significant activity in the history of Philippine archaeology. The diggings, done in the Tabon Caves in Palawan, was also Bailen’s first team-up professionally with Cabanilla, who was then connected with the National Museum.

The excavation led to a reexamination of our people’s view of our prehistoric origins with the discovery of a skull cap and part of a jawbone of what is now known as the Tabon Man. The fossil remnants, together with ancient stone tools found in the area, showed that man reached the Philippines at least 50,000 years ago.

Bailen specializes in physical anthropology and, together with Cabanilla, handles field trainings for UP students. Through a system borrowed primarily from forensic medicine, Bailen is able to infer, through such methods as anthropometric measurement of the skeletal remains, the kind of racial group existing and their manner of living.

Cabanilla is perhaps the most senior in the group in terms of experience in field archaelogy. He started off at the National Museum and since then participated in many diggings until he transferred to UP both as a lecturer at the Department of Anthropology and curator of its museum.

Among the field works that involved Cabanilla and Bailen were those done in Sual and Bolinao, all in Pangasinan; the archaeological survey in Benguet; and that in Penablanca, Cagayan Valley.

Another member of the team, Lerma de Lima Yambot also had previous experiences in archaeological field work as a student and later when she became lecturer at the UP Anthropology Department. Yambot is past president of Ugat, the national organization of anthropologists.

Yambot participated in the Bolinao, Pangasinan diggings in the late ’60s, the Montalban, Rizal survey in the ’80s and the archeological survey in Pagbilao Grande, Quezon in 1993. These field works have given her enough experience in assessing finds in burial and habitation sites.

Rounding up the team was research assistant Mumtaz Mahal Veloso, the youngest in the group. She graduated in anthropology at UP in 1992 and, like Bailen, specializes in physical anthropology.


“If we do not rethink early accounts of our past, we begin to be fossilized and if that happens it would be better if we join the artifacts in the museum,” Bailen said in a talk with Poro local government officials led by Mayor Rama.

But the group refused to be drawn into making a definite stand for or against Maktang, Esperanza as the site of the clash between Magellan and Lapulapu, preferring instead to conduct further study on the digging sites and artifacts found.

“This is a rich site,” the team admitted after doing the rounds in Poro. Here, it is good to note the developments in the period after The Freeman came out with its special report until the UP team arrived in Camotes.

When The Freeman conducted its own investigation in late August, we noticed a certain degree of ambivalence in the residents, especially in those who were involved in the 1973-74 and the recent diggings.Some showed us the artifacts but the others kept silent and refused to cooperate.

Many of the finds shown to us were those rejected by antique dealers, who apparently made a windfall out of the ignorance of the diggers. Reports said that one time, they were able to buy two Ford Fiera loads of artifacts.

The attitudes changed, however, after Poro municipal officials intensified their information drive on the importance of the artifacts not only in reviewing Cebu history but also in developing the tourism potentials of the town.

The support of the Provincial Government, through Provincial Board Member Agnes Magpale of the fifth congressional district where Camotes belongs also helped. The appropriation promised for the construction of a museum in the town prodded local government officials to start an inventory of the artifacts left behind.


Within a span of three days, the UP team was able to examine the artifacts, visit the sites and, most importantly, conduct their own digging that, though not within archaeological standards, provided the residents a glimpse of what to expect.

The artifacts shown were more varied, ranging from the teeth with gold pegs, porcelain wares, shell ornaments, rusty iron implements, stone tools and adzes (now displayed at the office of Mayor Rama) to large jars or tibod, to antique bowls of superior quality.

The UP team also tried to cover within its limited schedule a diverse area based on hunches borne from its experience in archaeological field work. It said that the sites of previous diggings must have been burial areas, and that it is necessary to look for the habitation places.

Based on such gameplan, the group visited the shorelines of Maktang, then moved to Taglibas in Barangay Daan Paz further north. They then proceeded to the caves, first in Maktang then in Sitio Kantaw-ang and finally to Buho in the poblacion where a newly developed beach resort was located.

The system apparently paid off. From the very limited perspective of looking into the Battle of Mactan claim, the survey shifted to the much wider and therefore more exciting proposition.

As Cabanilla pointed out, one of the purposes of the visit was to put the Camotes find in a larger geographical and historical context. This is because objects have no meaning until one places them within space and time.

Thus, the archaeological survey became more and more a search for our root, or for the earliest man to inhabit not only Camotes but also possibly the Philippines. We call it the quest for the Paleolithic Camotes.

(Part II: A closer look at the Poro find)


One Response to Quest for Paleolithic Camotes I

  1. adarit yob says:

    Ang away ni Magellan ug Lapu-Lapu..
    Sumala sa sinulat ni Antonio Pigafetta si Magellan napatay sa mga tawo ni Lapu-Lapu diha pa sa dagat sa gilawmon kutob sa pa-a pina-agi sa pana nga may hilo. Tungod sa kalayo sa daplin ni-ini dili ma abot sa mga kanyon ni Magellan ang mga sundalo ni Lapu-Lapu nga atu-a sa daplin sa baybayon. Kung atong tan-awon mismo ang dapit sa baybayon sa Maktang, Esperanza du-ol ra man ang baybayon sa lawon nga dagat nga mapunduhan sa sakyanan ni Magellan, ug kung mag kanyon sila siguradong lupigon ang mga sundalo ni Lapu-Lapu.
    Kung ikumpara nato ang Mactan sa Lapu-Lapu city halapad ug layo ka-ayo ang mabaw nga dagat, ug layo ra ka-ayo ang daplin ni-ini ( please see map of Mactan island in wikimapaia) or adtu-a mismo ang dapit nga nahitabu-an. Ang biyahi nila ni Magellan gui-ingon nga tulo ka oras sa dili pa ang ka-adlawon dili kay tulo ka oras ang biyahe.

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