By Coca H. Strobar
Salutes, cheers and band greeted the Balangay Team May 22nd, returning from a heroic 22-day ply to China, at the Manila Yacht Club, Roxas Boulevard, Manila where the official send-off was also held April 28. The great 22-day struggle commemorates the 600 years of Sulu Sultan Paduka Batara’s September 1417 voyage.
Replicas of three ancient boats were used: Sultan Sin Sulu, 18.28 mtr-net tonne 5.78; Lahi ng Maharlika 21.33 mtr-net tonne 12.30 and Sama ng Tawi Tawi 22.86 mtr, net tonne 5.0.
Balanghai or balangay or Butuan boat is a plank boat adjoined by a carved-out plank edged through pins and dowels, first mentioned in the 16th century Chronicles of Pigafetta. Their remains are the oldest pre-Hispanic watercraft found in Asia.
Those who mattered were there: Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, Jr., Butuan City Rep.Lawrence Fortun, Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and Commo. Ildefonso Tronqued, Jr. of the Manila Yacht Club.
PACC Sec. Dante La. Jimenez, a former navy officer, boarded to personally congratulate crew who are graduates of his Mariners Polytechnic Foundation Colleges. MARINA’s Atty. Joy Ban-eg, was beaming with her 18-year son, Kyle Mark B. Bongayon, who joined last year’s Balangay voyage to Sulu.
Also noticeable were A/Sec Alan Silor and China Con-Gen Luo Gang, Chairman Carlos Agatep, senior Navy and Coast Guard officers with families and friends, supporters and media.
Con-Gen Luo Gang congratulated the crew who made the 2,700 nautical voyage; Art Valdez for “courage and vision” for pushing through on the third attempt. The Chinese diplomat rushed the visas for the Pinoy seafarers. For this, he earned the Filipino friendship and a souvenir balangay which he called “friendSHIP,” earning applause for the quip.
Pres. Ramos spoke in Pilipino, taking off from Valdez’ maritime feat which Ramos interprets as a unifying factor to overcome challenges. The former president closed with a hype, Kaya Natin Ito! (the Filipino can!) and a jump made famous at the first Edsa People Power.
Former Transport U/Sec Valdez was also the leader of the First Philippine Expedition which scaled Mount Everest, one of the highest mountains of the world. He confesses “I thought (the project) cannot be realized at all because firstly the paper works… difficulty of complying with all the permits.”
There were also the logistical and financial requirements, unpredictable weather making the repro boats “always subject to the mercy of the elements.”
But common commitment was echoed by John Manginsay, underscoring Sultan Paduka did not know the sextant yet conquered wind and water guided by the stars.
Coast Guard personnel Dayondon condensed the event: “an opportunity for us to continuously learn little by little about Philippine history, a learning outside a conventional classroom.
We are no conqueror of the mountains and vast seas, we just conquered our fears, doubts and own limitations.
We felt honored and blessed for all these humbling experiences.”
Sama Tawa-Tawi, Skippers Cesario Simbajon Cornejo, Jr and Lemzar John Havana Manginsay, Asst Skipper Sukrie Abdulla Jauhar and crew Valdez, Fred Balbastro Jamili, Edward Claudio Valdez, V Valdez Villalva, Bashier Talad Abdulla, Lloyd Adrian Grandea Fuentes, Ariel Borras Ramos, Teofredo Tablan Esguerra, Jim Tampus Lim, Lemzy James Havana Manginsay and Fung Yu.
Lahi ng Maharlika, Skippers Rafael Caampued Carolino and Juan Miguel Medrina Salazar and crew Jeomar Palenzuela Nuda, Jeffrey Lagana Zaragosa, Joel Fernandez Reyes, Nino Cabarubias Banzon, Patrick Bokingo Ruiz, Lito Maro Suarez Abigpa, Dhandy Contrano Paiton, Joel Baunillo Miranda and Carina Gonzaga Dayondon.
Sultan Sin Sulu, Skipper Jan Paul Cabildo Rodriguez and Asst. Skipper Rogen Alarcon Manongol and crew Richard Mark Diadula Yamba III, Gaude Campomanes Gaylon, Anhar Arabani Taha, Jasir Buddin Assiong, Noelle Cristina Maclan Wenceslao and Luzviminda Mandaguit Viray.
A beehive of activities followed from the landing in May 2 to the departure in May 9.
Welcome dinner was hosted by Con-Gen Julius Flores, turnover of books and tour of Gulangyu Island, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Wreath was laid at the Dr. Rizal monument at JinJiang, the hero a 22nd generation descendant of the first generation Ke family whose roots are in Shang Guo village of Jinjiang. Rizal’s great-great grandfather was Domingo Lameo (Ke Yi Nan) who immigrated to the Philippines.
There was a visit at Quanzhou Maritime Museum, Fengze District, Quanzhou City, Fujian. It is the only museum in China specializing in overseas relations. Leader Valdez gave a lecture.
A solemn call paid respect at the tomb of the Sulu Sultan in Dezhou City, Shandong. They met Batara’s descendants to the 18th generation.
On the last day, Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana graced the farewells for the Balangay Team at the Tiannamen Square area with dinner hosted by Mr. Yang, descendant of the Sulu Sultan.
In a lecture given May 11th by Valdez at Xiamen Univ, he recalled Florentino Das who sailed solo (May 14, 1955 to April 25, 1956) from Hawaii to the Philippines in a 24-ft sailboat (Lady Timarau) built by him. Das got ship wrecked at Marshall Island but made it to Siargao, Surigao.
Samarenos have petitioned Rep. Raul Daza (Nothern Samar) to initiate national honors for the feat awarded the Legion of Honor (Commodore of the Navy) in 1956 by Pres. R. Magsaysay.
They want a Das monument at Roxas boulevard and transfer of his remains from the North Cemetery to the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
While some bashers snide that culture is the luxury of the well-fed, Valdez retorts with a Filipino adage: Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paruruonan (He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination).