Some of the Maragtas legends have long been a part of Visayan folklore and they are a source of fierce pride for many Visayans today. The stories of the ten datus or chiefs have been told for generations and they are perfectly believable, as far as legends go, if we put aside the modern additions such as obviously phoney "original" manuscripts and the use of precise but utterly uncorroborated dates from the pre-colonial era.
After all, it is not hard to believe that exiles could have sailed from Borneo to settle in Panay. Why not? Even though there are no ancient documents to show that Chief Sumakwel and his followers actually existed, there is much archaeological and foreign documentary evidence of regular trade and travel at that time between the Philippines and its neighbours.
But while Monteclaro's misguided ethnic pride, and the blatant dishonesty of other writers who further embellished his work, blurred the line between legends and hard historical facts, the story of Kalantiaw is more alarming because he was never a part of Philippine history or legend. Kalantiaw was an utter hoax from the beginning.
The Incredible Code of Kalantiaw
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century Filipino students were taught about the vicious and bizarre laws that were said to have been enacted by one Datu Kalantiaw in the year 1433 on the island of Panay. Many of his commandments contradicted one an other and his punishments were extremely brutal, usually having no relation to the severity of the crime committed. Offences to the law ranged from as light as singing at night to as grave as murder. Those convicted supposedly were made slaves, beaten, lashed, stoned, had fingers cut off, were exposed to ants, drowned, burned, boiled, chopped to pieces or fed to crocodiles.
So, why should we not believe this story that has been taught as history for so many years in Filipino schools? There are three good reasons.
The first reason is the lack of historical evidence. There are simply no written or pictorial documents from that time in Philippine history. There are no documents from other countries that mention the great Kalantiaw either. There is also no evidence that Philippine culture ever spawned such a barbaric set of laws. The early Spanish accounts tell us that Filipino custom at that time allowed even the most serious lawbreakers to pay a fine or be placed into servitude for a time in cases of debt. As the missionary Francisco Colín wrote in 1663:
Arbitration is still the custom of those Philippine cultures that were never conquered by the Spaniards.
The second reason is the lack of evidence for a Kalantiaw legend. Many ardent admirers of the Datu, who disdain all historical evidence to the contrary, claim that he has long been a part of Visayan culture and heritage. This is simply not true. The Spaniards never recorded any Filipino legend about Kalantiaw. If they were aware of such a legend they had no reason to suppress it because those Spaniards who were sympathetic to the Filipinos could have presented the mere existence of the Code as proof that their ancestors were civilized, just as many Filipinos do today, while detractors could have pointed to the maniacal Datu himself as proof of their savagery even though his methods of torture were no more sadistic than those of the Spanish Inquisition.
It is certain that there were no legends of Kalantiaw before the 20th century. The Aklanon historian Digno Alba was a young man at the start of that century. He looked for Kalantiaw in local folklore in the 1950s but did not find him. On May 5, 1967 the historian William H. Scott wrote to Alba and asked him:
To which Alba replied in a letter from Kalibo, Aklan dated May 15, 1967:
The third and most important reason to reject the Kalantiaw myth is its source. If Kalantiaw was not a historical figure or a legendary character, where did he come from? Many writers on this subject didn't bother to mention where they obtained their information. Some, like Digno Alba, simply created "facts" from thin air. The ultimate origin of Kalantiaw was traced by William Scott back to a single person who definitely did not live in the 1400s. He was José E. Marco of Pontevedra, Negros Occidental and in 1913 he claimed to have discovered the Pavón documents that were mentioned in Scott's letter to Digno Alba. These documents, which contain the Code of Kalantiaw, were in fact Marco's own creation. Kalantiaw eventually became the most successful of many hoaxes in Marco's career of almost 50 years as a forger and fraud.
The Origin of Kalantiaw and the Pavón Manuscripts
Kalantiaw's name first appeared in print in July of 1913 in an article entitled Civilización prehispana published in Renacimiento Filipino. K3 The article mentioned 16 laws enacted by King Kalantiaw in 1433 and a fort that he built at Gagalangin, Negros, which was destroyed by an earthquake in the year A.D. 435 (not 1435). The article was written by Manuel Artigas who, only a year before, had provided the footnotes to a poorly written essay by José Marco, Reseña historica de la Isla de Negros. K4.
More details about Kalantiaw emerged a year later, in 1914, when José Marco donated five manuscripts to the Philippine Library & Museum. Among the documents was Las antiguas leyendes de la Isla de Negros, a two volume leather bound work that was supposedly written by a Friar José María Pavón in 1838 and 1839. K5 The Code of Kalantiaw, in chapter 9 of part 1, was one of six translated documents that were dated before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines. The original Code was purportedly discovered in the possession of a Panay datu in 1614. At the time of Pavón's writing in 1839 it was supposedly owned by a Don Marcelio Orfila of Zaragoza. In 1966 the Philippine government asked the government of Spain for the return of the original Code of Kalantiaw by the descendants of Marcelio Orfila but the Police Commissioner there could not find any record of that family in the city of Zaragoza.
For several decades José Marco didn't explain, at least in writing, where he got Friar Pavón's manuscripts but it seems that he had a ready explanation to tell privately. The anthropologist and historian Henry Otley Beyer related this story to his colleague, Mauro Garcia, in the early 1950s. As the story goes, Pavón was the priest in the town of Himamaylan, Negros in the 1840s. When that town was looted during the revolution in 1899, Marco's father was among some looters who had stolen what they thought was a chest of coins or jewelry but when it was accidentally dropped in the river it became so heavy that they realized that it was full of papers, which were apparently the Pavón manuscripts.
However if this story was true, José Marco would have had to explain why he didn't use this wealth of information or even mention these documents when he wrote his Reseña Historica in 1912. Perhaps Marco saw the flaw in his story so, when he explained the origin of the manuscripts to the Philippine Studies Program at the University of Chicago in 1954, he said that he had got them from an old cook who once worked at the convent in Himamaylan where Pavón had lived. It was this old cook, he said, who had stolen the manuscripts during the looting and then, evidently, sold them to Marco in 1913.
Mistakes in the Pavón Manuscript
Aside from the doubtful origin of the Code of Kalantiaw and Pavón's Leyendes, which contains it, these documents themselves are both highly suspicious. The title of the Code is The 17 theses, or laws of the Regulos [Datus] in use in 150 since 1433 (sic) but there are actually 18 laws listed, which cover approximately forty different offences, and not 16 laws as reported by Artigas in 1913. And of course, the dates in the title make no sense. In the 1800s it was still common to abbreviate dates by omitting the first one or two digits of a year but never the final digits. Therefore the number 150 was not a contraction of the year 1500. It could only mean 1150, which is just as nonsensical as 150. The second chapter in part two of Leyendes tells about the building of Kalantiaw's fortress in 433. Although this number is a correct abbreviation of 1433, the same year in which Kalantiaw allegedly wrote his laws, the document that shows that date was supposedly written in the year 1137! And in spite of the fact that ancient Filipinos had no clocks or a measure of time equal to one hour, Kalantiaw's third law condemns a man to swim for three hours if he cannot afford to care for his wives, while his fifth law metes out the punishment of a one hour lashing.
Improbable dates are typical of all the documents that José Marco claimed to have discovered. The presumed author of Leyendes, José María Pavón, translated the Code of Kalantiaw and five other pre-Hispanic documents, but he did not explain how he had calculated their dates. He himself even wrote that the ancient Visayans did not keep track of the years for any extended length of time, yet his "exact" translation of a document that was supposedly written in 1489, decades before western culture made contact with the Philippines, mentioned the "first Friday of the year" and years with "three numbers alike, as for instance 1777". It also mentioned coins of King Charles V of Spain who was not even born until the year 1500.
And the anachronisms are not limited to the pre-Hispanic documents. Pavón was just as confused about his own era. Upon completing his masterwork, Pavón dedicated Leyendes to the King of Spain on August 1, 1839. Spain had no king at that time; the 8 year old child Queen Isabella II had held the throne since 1833 under the regency of her mother, Maria Christina. There was no king again until 1874.
When Pavón described an ancient Visayan calendar in 1838-39 he happened to write that November was called "a bad month, for it brought air laden with putrefied microbes of evil fevers". The word microbe was not invented until 1878 and Louis Pasteur only developed his theory that infectious germs could be transmitted through the air in the 1850s.
Pavón included the pre-Hispanic Visayan alphabet that Fr. Francisco Deza had supposedly recorded in 1543 but he was not born until in 1620. Another document was signed by Deza on March 23, 14, which was either six years before his birth or 94 years after, depending on which century was intended for the year ??14. That same document was stamped, "Parish of Ilog of Occidental Negros" with a note, "R.S. in the province and town above named on the twenty first of the month of July in the year 17…" There was no province of Negros Occidental in those centuries or in Pavón's time. The island of Negros was not divided until 1890.
The examples of ancient Visayan writing in Leyendes looked very similar to others that were allegedly discovered by José Marco and they contained the same mistakes. Even though the ancient Filipino letters were used in these documents, the words were not written in the syllabic method of the Philippines but were spelled phonetically in the Spanish style. That is to say, it seemed that each Spanish letter was merely substituted by an ancient Filipino letter. This is wrong because in all other forms of ancient Filipino and Malaysian writing, each letter represented a complete syllable whereas Spanish letters (our modern letters) represent only basic sounds. Also, there were no marks above or below the letters to indicate vowels other than "A" and there was no character for the "NGa" syllable. It was substituted by a combination of the letters "N" and "G" with a large Spanish tilde (~) placed above! In short, pre-colonial Filipino authors supposedly wrote in ancient Filipino letters but applied to them Spanish spelling conventions in an era before any Spaniard had set foot in the Philippines.
Pavón's own writing was also curious. The title pages of Leyendes were obviously hand drawn but made to look as though they were printed text. Various type styles were mixed and the uppercase "I"s were even dotted. (As in the example shown above.) The spelling throughout the two volumes of Leyendes was also erratic. The spelling in volume 1, which was written in 1838, was similar to spelling of the 1500s. For the second volume in 1839, Pavón wrote that he had adopted the "many changes in spelling" contained in the latest dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy and indeed the style of volume 2 was proper for that time, though not consistent with that dictionary. However Pavón did not explain how he was able to employ these new spellings in a document he wrote back in 1837 when he did not yet know about them in 1838. That document was Brujerías y los Cuentos de Fantasmas and it was also "discovered" by José Marco.
Who was José María Pavón?
Friar José María Pavón y Araguro acknowledged many sources of information for his books: untraceable informants, unknown documents and authors who were were already deceased or not even born yet or who, due to other circumstances, could not have written the documents that were ascribed to them. Thus, it is no small coincidence that Pavón's own life story, as described in his manuscripts, was equally dubious.
Pavón claimed that he arrived in the Philippines in 1810 but there are no records to support this. He also wrote that he had lived in the convent of his parish of Himamaylan since at least July 17, 1830 but according to the Libro de Cosas notables of Himamaylan, he actually took charge of that parish 12 years later on September 7, 1842. He wrote that he completed Las Antiguas Leyendes in Himamaylan in 1839, which was the same year the Guía de Forasteros listed him as a Professor of Syntax and Rhetoric at the seminary in Cebu. This is the earliest known record of the real José María Pavón.
The Guía de Forasteros or "Foreigner's Guide" contained a directory of various government officials and it was released annually during the Spanish era. It always listed Pavón with a "D." (for "Don") before his name, which meant that he was a secular priest. But Pavón, the author, often signed his name as "Fray José María Pavón", which implied that he was a friar in a religious order. He even mentioned taking a trip to Borneo with some "companions of the habit".
Pavón claimed that he was a schoolboy in 1788 in Seville, Spain. One of his supposed classmates at that time was Fray Jorge G. de Setién who was also mentioned in José Marco's Reseña histórica as the author of a travel book about the Philippines in 1779. If we suppose that Setién was a very precocious infant in 1779, he and Pavón were no younger that 9 years of age in 1788. This would have made Pavón at least 87 years old in 1866 when he was known to be the parish priest of Cebu.
It is obvious that the real José María Pavón did not write the Pavón manuscripts. It is more likely that his name was simply plucked from the records of history to be used in a very ambitious but clumsy hoax.
Embellishments to the Myth
The Kalantiaw hoax was created by José Marco but it soon took on a life of its own. Frauds and scholars alike began to build a history on the foundation of his artificial legend. Marco and Kalantiaw instantly attained a veneer of legitimacy when Dr. James A. Robertson acquired the new "discoveries" for the Philippine Library and Museum in 1914. On July 20, 1915, Robertson submitted a paper about the Kalantiaw Code to the Panama-Pacific Historical Congress in California and then published an English translation of the Code in 1917.
In that same year a Spanish version of the Code was published and discussed by Josué Soncuya in six chapters of his Historia Prehispana. K6 Soncuya, a native of Banga, Aklan, bestowed upon the great lawmaker the title "Rajah Kalantiaw" and he concluded that the Code was written for Aklan, Panay and not Negros because he had spotted two Aklanon words in the text. He overlooked the fact that the title of the book that told the tales of Kalantiaw was The Ancient Legends of the Island of Negros and that it was supposedly written on that island by José Pavón whose manuscripts were allegedly discovered there by José Marco, a native of Negros, and according to those manuscripts, Kalantiaw built his fortress on the island of Negros.
Nevertheless, the Kalantiaw legend was successfully transplanted into the soil of Panay. Perhaps his devotees thought that the better fertilized land of the Maragtas legends would provide him a little more credibility. In 1949 Gregorio Zaide included the Kalantiaw Code in his Philippine Political and Cultural History with the words "Aklan, Panay" attached to the title. And even though Digno Alba could find no evidence for Kalantiaw as a legend, he declared in his book Paging Datu Kalantiaw (1956) that the Datu had set up his government in Batan and made it the capital of the sakup of Aklan. K7 On December 8, 1956 a historical marker was erected in Batan in honour of Kalantiaw. In the following year, 1957, a former school building in the town was converted into the Kalantiaw Shrine by the Philippine Historical and Cultural Society and the Code of Kalantiaw was later inscribed there in brass. The museum even boasts an "original manuscript" of the Code.
The Kalantiaw Shrine containing a museum and library in Batan, Aklan.
From a postcard printed by the National Histotrical Institute in 1976
In 1966 Sol H. Gwekoh released new details in the Sunday Times about the life of Datu Bendahara Kalantiaw, son of Rajah Behendra Gulah. He was born in 1410 and became the third Muslim ruler in Panay at the age of 16. Kalantiaw is thought by many to belong to a long genealogy of Muslim rulers but it is clearly evident in his own Code that he was not even a Muslim. He was an animist. His Code punished offences against anitos, diwatas, venerated trees and animals, and clay idols. Aside from this, it is slightly ironic that Gwekoh gave the exalted Datu the name "Bendahara" because it is actually an old Visayan word, which means "prime minister" or second in power to the top datu. It has a similar meaning in modern Malay.
Other unidentified writers are often quoted throughout the Internet for many contradicting stories about Kalantiaw. (See: Postscript.) Some maintain that he was not only the third ruler of Panay, but that he was also the third in a dynasty of rulers named Kalantiaw. His father was not Rajah Gulah but King Kalantiaw I who captured the town of Batan in 1399 with Chinese adventurers. Incredible though it may seem, the elder Kalantiaw I gave his name to both his sons, Kalantiaw II and Kalantiaw III. Kalantiaw II was not the father of the more famous Kalantiaw III but his brother! Even harder to believe is that there is an exact date for when Kalantiaw III supposedly issued his famous commandments - December 8, 1433. Many more stories abound about the life, the loves, the battles, the duels and the death of Kalantiaw. The title of his Code simply called him Kalantiaw, the 3rd "regulo" or "petty king".
Kalantiaw was honoured by the Philippine Navy in December 1967 when it acquired the World War II destroyer escort USS Booth from the United States and recommissioned it the RPS Datu Kalantiaw. It was lost during typhoon Clara on September 20, 1981.
In 1970 the popular historian Gregorio Zaide speculated in Great Filipinos in History that Kalantiaw's real name was Lakan Tiaw or "Chief of Brief Speech". Lakan is a common prefix to Tagalog names that once meant "paramount ruler". Incredibly Zaide even reproduced a direct quote from the noble king, "The law is above all men." However the most shocking aspect of Zaide's claims was that he wrote them while knowing full well that the Kalantiaw legend was proved decisively to be a hoax two years earlier.
The History of Kalantiaw Refuted
José Marco continued to produce forgeries almost until his death in 1963 but with ever diminishing success. By the 1950s genuine scholars could no longer take him seriously and despite Kalantiaw's growing renown, a new generation of academics began to question the dogma of a half century of Philippine historiography.
In 1965 William Henry Scott was a doctoral candidate at the University of Santo Tomas when the bibliographer Mauro Garcia suggested that for his thesis he examine the history of the Philippines before the arrival of the Spaniards. Garcia had received several fake documents from José Marco in the past, which made him suspicious of Marco's first discoveries upon which so much early history was based. He only showed a few of these forgeries to Scott so as not to prejudice his research, saving the most blatant fakes until after Scott had formed his own conclusions about Marco's work.
Scott focused his investigation by tracing the original source of every single reference to the pre-Hispanic history of the Philippines in the four standard college text books in use at that time. K8 He examined the original documents and searched archives and museums the world over for supporting documents and artifacts. He questioned the top historians of the day about their sources of information. He interviewed the friends and colleagues of Jose E. Marco and he examined their correspondence with him. In the matter of Kalantiaw, all the information was traced back to a single source; José E. Marco. Scott summarized the results of his painstaking investigation in just two sentences:
Scott successfully defended his thesis before a panel of eminent Filipino historians, some of whom had formerly endorsed many of the facts of Philippine history that he had proved false. The panel included Teodoro Agoncillo, Horacio de la Costa, Marcelino Forondo, Mercedes Grau Santamaria, Nicholas Zafra and Gregorio Zaide. Scott's meticulous research was published in 1968 in his book Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History and since then no historian has contested his conclusions.
The Die-Hard Lie
William H. Scott's exposé did not have an immediate effect on Filipino society. On March 1, 1971, President Ferdinand Marcos instituted the "Order of Kalantiaw", an award "for services to the country in the areas of law and justice" (Executive Order No. 294). That same year a beauty pageant winner was crowned "Lakambini ni Kalantiaw" on the supposed anniversary of the Code (December 8), and the artist Carlos Valino Jr. depicted Kalantiaw issuing his commandments (See painting above). On January 24, 1973, Marcos also issued Presidential Decree No. 105, which declared that the Kalantiaw Shrine, and all national shrines, were sacred. The decree prohibited all forms of desecration including "unnecessary noise and committing unbecoming acts." Like Kalantiaw's Code, the penalty was hefty; "imprisonment for not less than ten (10) years or a fine not less than ten thousand pesos (P10,000) or both."
Some Filipino historians had already discarded the Kalantiaw legend even before Scott's thesis was published. His irrefutable proof subsequently convinced even the foremost historians to reject it completely. However, one astonishing exception was Gregorio F. Zaide, the author of countless school textbooks and a member of the very dissertation panel that examined Scott's thesis in 1968. According to Scott,
Despite this opportunity to challenge Scott's thesis directly on the matter of Kalantiaw, Zaide apparently remained silent but he continued to endorse the myth and even add his own details to it in books such as Heroes of Philippine History (1970), Pageant of Philippine History (1979), History of the Republic of the Philippines (1983), Philippine History (1984), and in reissues of his older works. Soon after Dr. Zaide's death in 1986 his daughter, Sonia M. Zaide, revised the books that she had co-authored with her father and removed most, but not all, of the material based on the Marco hoaxes.
Nevertheless, the ghost of Kalantiaw continues to haunt Filipinos some 40 years after the hoaxes were exposed. He is still portrayed on the ceiling of the old Senate hall in Manila and the Philippine government still awards the "Order of Kalantiaw" to retiring justices. The Central Philippine University in Iloilo has its own "Order of Kalantiao", a fraternity that was at the centre of a serious hazing incident in September of 2001. Even the National Historical Institute (NHI) honoured Kalantiaw in 1989 by including him in volume 4 of their five volumes of Filipinos in History. The Gintong Pamana (Golden Heritage) Awards Foundation, a project of Philippine Time USA Magazine, rewards community leadership among Filipino-Americans with the "Kalantiaw Award". Buildings, streets and banquet halls throughout the Philippines still bear the name of the imaginary ruler of Panay and tourists can still visit the Kalantiaw Shrine in Batan, Aklan or even pass by a local high school, Kalantiaw Institute.
Old school textbooks are revised to include recent events such as the People Power Revolution of 1986 but the fictitious codes of Kalantiaw and Maragtas remain untouched, as in A History of the Philippines by Leogardo et al. (1986) K11 In newer textbooks, authors of the old school still retell the obsolete theories and fallacies of Philippine history although some now make cynical attempts to present a fair and enlightened view by merely inserting brief, and often dismissive, notes about rival “opinions.” Take for example these lines from Edgardo E. Dagdag’s 1997 high school textbook, Kasaysayan at Pamahalaan ng Pilipinas (History & Government of the Philippines):
One wonders just how closely the author examined the contents of the Kalantiaw Code when he wrote this charitable description of such a saintly community. Would a society that "valued life" have wanted such an irrational legal code wherein 14 of its 18 laws inflicted the most gruesome deaths, mutilations and tortures? The bibliography in the book does not list any works by W. Henry Scott so it can be assumed that the author was not familiar with Scott’s absolutely incontrovertible proofs that debunked the Kalantiaw myth so thoroughly. Otherwise, he would have known that the Code and all the legends surrounding it were in fact 20th century fabrications and thus could not possibly show "what kind of society the ancient Filipinos wanted to create."
Inferior textbooks are not likely to vanish soon if the textbook/bribery scandal at the Department of Budget and Management in 1999 was any indicator of the state of the educational system in the Philippines. However, the situation is not completely hopeless. For although the Philippine public may be slow to shrug off the Kalantiaw myth, recent generations of students have come to know it as a fraud rather than a fact. The gradual effect of this teaching is starting to show. In 1994 the playwright Rene O. Villanueva dramatized the life of Jose E. Marco and the creation of the Kalantiaw hoax in the play Kalantiaw, Kagila-gilalas na Kasinungalingan (The Amazing Lie). Villanueva's intriguing story proposed that Marco's motivation for creating his frauds was his intense admiration for his personal hero, Jose Rizal. Marco's ambition was to better the accomplishments of Rizal by inventing a glorious past to fill the gaps in Filipino history.
It is only now, since most of the old guard has passed on, that the new generation of historians have been able to set the records straight. The NHI finally admitted that Kalantiaw was a hoax in 1998 when Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, who was about to receive the Kalantiaw Award, asked Malacañang to look into the matter. President Joseph Estrada gave him the award anyway.
In 2005, the NHI, under the leadership of Ambeth Ocampo, made their opinion official when they submitted a resolution to President Arroyo to revoke the national shrine status of the Kalantiaw Shrine in Aklan, which, of course, enraged some Aklanons.
Today some people still cite the courage and wisdom of Kalantiaw as they continue to heap accolades upon him and the oblivious recipients of those Kalantiaw awards. However, a sober look at the Kalantiaw's Code reveals that his magnificent courage was merely brutality and his exalted wisdom was in fact incredible insanity. Kalantiaw's defenders insist that his legend must be true simply because he has always inspired them as a part of their heritage. But while they portray such a maniac as a Filipino hero, they disregard what gross slander they lay on the character of all Filipinos. Fortunately, the people of the Philippines need never bear this shame because Kalantiaw never really existed.
The Kalantiaw hoax is still deceiving people even at the highest levels of society and government. These are just a few of the more notable examples of web sites that still perpetuate the hoax either unintentionally or by wilful ignorance.
For more information about the true history of Aklan and
The main source of information for this article, including some of the quotations from earlier works, is W.H. Scott's Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History, revised edition, 1984. Specific citations may be accessed by clicking on the K# links.
Many thanks to Mr. Rudolf N. Inamarga for his patience and insight in so many e-mail conversations about Philippine history.