Batulaki: the village that saved Spanish explorers who first circumnavigated the world 500 years ago

The Batulaki historical marker, the 32nd of the 34 quincentennial markers in Philippine territory, stands at a cliff overlooking the Celebes Sea in Barangay Batulaki, Glan, Sarangani. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

GLAN, Sarangani (MindaNews / 30 January)– Unknown to many, the remote coastal village of Batulaki, located some 50 kilometers from the heart of this town with an old-world charm, provided refuge to the surviving crew of the Spanish expedition that first circumnavigated the world 500 years ago.

A few minutes from the national highway, a marker has been erected on a cliff overlooking the Celebes Sea to ensure that the historical importance of the place will not be buried in oblivion.

Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the first circumnavigation of the world headed by the fallen Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, wrote that the surviving crew of the Spanish expedition dropped anchor in “Biraham Batulach,” known as the present-day Barangay Batulaki, to seek solace from a raging storm on October 26, 1521.

The historical marker in Batulaki was unveiled on October 26, 2021, led by officials from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and local government officials, as part of the 500thcommemoration of the first circumnavigation of the world.

This road sign to guide visitors to the Batulaki historical marker is just after the military checkpoint along the national highway in Barangay Batulaki, Glan, Sarangani. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

Dr. Rene Escalante, NHCP chairperson and executive director of the National Quincentennial Committee, stressed that Batulaki “was a turning point in the life of the remaining crew members of Magellan.”

“Because on this day, 500 years ago, they almost died in what Pigafetta described as the “most furious storm,” Escalante said in his message during the unveiling of the historical marker.

By then, the expedition was led by Sebastian Elcano, who took over from Magellan after the latter was killed in the Battle of Mactan months earlier.

When the Magellan-Elcano expedition reached Batulaki, they were already navigating for 768 days since they left Spain on September 20, 1519, according to Escalante, noting that it was already typhoon season when they reached this area. 

He said that before Magellan, most Europeans thought the Philippines “was a region of sea monsters, like a two-tailed mermaid which eventually became an iconic logo of one of the Filipinos’ favorite cafés, the Starbucks.”

Reports about our country only reached the consciousness of the Europeans when 18 of the 250 original crew members of the Magellan-Elcano expedition returned to Spain on September 8, 1522, Escalante said.

Escalante said that while the Portuguese were ahead of the Spaniards in Southeast Asia, it was the Spaniards who elevated the value of the Philippine archipelago to the world.

Spain eventually colonized the Philippines for 333 years. 

“We became an important hub in the first world trade known as the Galleon Trade, describing us as the El Corazon del Mundo’ or the heart of the world,” Escalante said.

Although far from the town center or  the famed white sand beaches of this town, the historical marker in Batulaki has become a destination for some visitors who go to the site to take their pictures. The spot has a 360 degree view of the vast ocean and the rolling coconut trees on vast tracts of lands. Sarangani Island in Davao Occidental can be seen from the spot.

With a laidback lifestyle, Glan town, touted as the “Boracay of the South” due to its powdery white sand beaches, still exudes old-world charm, thanks to the century-old trees and houses in the población that have been preserved by the locals.

Century-old acacia trees exuding old-world charm still teem inside a school at the poblacion of Glan, Sarangani. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

The Batulaki historical marker is the 32nd of the 34 quincentennial markers in Philippines,

Roberto Alabado III, the Department of Tourism’s  Undersecretary for Tourism Regulation, Coordination and Resource Generation, also stressed that Batulaki played an important role in global history, having been part of the world’s first circumnavigation 500 years ago.

“It is a sense of pride for the Sarangani people to know that we are part of the history of the circumnavigation of the world,” he said.

“Your place saved them and enabled them to continue and proved that the world is indeed round. We have to tell our children and the children of our children of our history and let us be proud of it as Filipinos,” Alabado added.

Rodolfo Rodriguez, a resident of Batulaki, donated the 400 square meter lot for the site of the historical marker.

The municipal hall of Glan, Sarangani at the heart of the poblacion area. (MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO)

Glan Mayor Vivien Yap said they are planning to fully develop the area as a tourism site. 

“It makes us proud that we are part of this history in our country 500 years ago,” she said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)