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Posted by on Jun 15, 2015 in Blog |

The Murillo Velarde map: A relic from 1734 amid the rough seas of 2015

The Murillo Velarde map: A relic from 1734 amid the rough seas of 2015

Posted on 12:43 PM, June 11, 2015

 By Jorge R. Mojarro



Nevertheless, this map, which can be downloaded online, has been well known among historians, map collectors, and aficionados of Filipiniana in general. Was the purchase really necessary to defend Filipino claims about its sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc (or Scarborough Shoal) before the United Nations? Different versions of the map were already displayed at the Metropolitan Museum in July 2012, at an exhibition titled Three Hundred Years of Philippine Maps, 1598-1898. On that occasion, the historian and economist Benito J. Legarda, Jr. gave a speech on the life and times of the Jesuit priest Velarde. T-shirts printed with the Velarde map were even sold in that gathering. So why so much noise about this now when a version of the map is even available in the Wikipedia entry on Scarborough Shoal?

Pedro Murillo Velarde was not only a priest. Like many in his order and in the Catholic clergy as a whole, during his time, he was as man of erudition, a polygraph and an expert on law, among other things. During his stay in the Philippines, he served as a reference person to consult on almost any matter. On his watch as well as censorship were printed several books. Among his remarkable works is the second Jesuit history of the Philippines, Historia de la Provincia de Philipinas de la Compañía de Jes£s: Segunda Parte (Manila, 1749), recounting Philippine events between 1616 and 1716. This narrative actually includes a copy of the map in question, Carta hydrographica y chorographica de las Islas Filipinas. Another is the 10-volume Geographia Historica (Madrid, 1752), of which the eighth volume devotes almost a hundred pages to the nature, geography, and people of the Philippines.

Nicolás de la Cruz Bagay was the Tagalog engraver to whom must be credited the map’s masterful engraving. He was at the service of the Jesuits until his death, and almost any printed Jesuit book was carried out by him.

The Carta was printed upon the request of then governor-general Fernando Valdés y Tamón (1729-1739), to please a direct order from Philip V, who wanted to have a detailed map of the archipelago. It took them only one year to carry out the work. Many maps of the Philippines had been already printed, but none matched the Carta in terms of comprehensiveness and accuracy, despite some understandable mistakes. Needless to say, the Jesuit priest did not have to visit all the islands to carry out this work, but he carefully compiled all the maps, charts, and geographical knowledge available in his time in order to design the map.

There has not been enough discussion on the beautiful drawings accompanying the map: they show the human diversity of Manila, at that time a commercial hub and an early entrepot of globalization, thanks to the Manila Galleon; it shows the urban planning of Manila, some of the Filipino fauna — crocodiles used to be abundant — the particular way people, including the indigenous tribes, used to dress, and their varied way of life. The ilustrado Trinidad Pardo de Tavera devoted to this map a thorough monograph printed in 1894, as he was fortunate to see the original copper plate of the book editions of the map.

Perhaps attesting to the map’s popularity was its being reprinted time and again: in Manila (1744), in Vienna (1748) by Kaliwoda, in Nüremberg (1760) by Lowitz, in the first volume of Juan de la Concepción’s Historia General de Philipinas (1788), and as the basis of other Philippine maps (e.g. Paris,1752) until cartography developed more precise methods.

Scarborough Shoal is an easy geographical accident to dismiss because of its small size, but it is too close to the Philippine shore, too close to Manila, and, even more importantly, this has always been the fishing base of Filipino fishermen who are now deprived of a rich source of livelihood. I believe the Spratly Islands further down southwest are also indicated in the map even with its limited space, namely, by Bajos de Paragua.

The current geopolitical situation threatening the integrity of Filipino territory shows how vital history is as a reference for national interests — no matter that history can also be contradicted by contemporary realities. More money should be invested in the rich Philippine National Library, in the National Archives, and in any library containing valuable historical material. More emphasis should be given also in schools to the country’s history before 1898 and also to the archipelago’s overall background before 1521. The Murillo Velarde map should be only the first proof before the United Nations. More inquiries and research into old documents and forgotten maps should shed more light on the Philippine jurisdiction over a handful of islands that always belongs to its territory. Malacañan Palace itself holds a rich collection of Filipino maps that could be useful in this case.

There is a perennial race among powerful nations to assert control over territories whose sovereignty is under challenge — from the Islas Malvinas/Falklands to Western Sahara to the Kuril Islands. Even the melting North Pole is subject to territorial dispute. The problem confronting the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal, with its promise of natural wealth in its surrounding waters, can be better understood in the context of greed by some powerful nations that is akin to big business but raised to an international level. This issue gives rise to patriotic feelings that are otherwise an abstraction to a citizenry dealing with more urgent, palpable concerns. But there are serious implications to the Philippines, with its weak military, as a perfect victim of China’s attempt to extend its area of influence. There are no other weapons for the Philippines but the voice of reason and undeniable evidence, which can be ignored but which remain a steadfast consideration in the international community.

Jorge R. Mojarro is a Spanish scholar and a doctoral candidate doing research on Filipiniana. He has been living in the Philippines since 2009, going around the country, walking Manila’s streets, and taking the train. He also writes for