The Philippines and Guam: A Shared Heritage worth remembering

Sep 11, 2017



It’s sad how of the 20,000 Filipinos who visited Guam last year, most came to shop, unaware of the treasures awaiting them here on a shared historical heritage.


Like the Philippines, Guam was a Spanish colony, and remnants of that period remains in a series of forts built to defend the island against pirates and privateers, it being a prime target as a vital stopover for the famed galleons of the Manila-Acapulco Trade.


“In Guam we have over 333 years of Spanish history. And within that time, we’ve learned to adapt to Spanish customs and traditions and foods,” said Pilar Laguaña, Director of Global Marketing, Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB), during a recent interview with journalists from the Visayas and Mindanao.


The group underwent a recent famtour of the island courtesy of the Cebu Pacific Air and the GVB, the official marketing agency of the Government of Guam tasked with promoting and developing Guam as a viable destination overseas.


Tourism provides over 50% of the Gross Island Product and is considered as the main economic driver of Guam’s economy. Guam is a mere 3.5 hour jaunt from Manila on the same airlines and aircraft Filipinos have been used to traveling in domestically.


Ferdinand Magellan


Guam was also the last stop of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition before he discovered and was killed in the Philippines. “We were discovered by the same explorer Ferdinand Magellan and I know what happened when he came to the Philippines!” Ms. Laguaña noted.


Magellan's Monument facing Umatac Bay

Magellan’s Monument facing Umatac Bay

Magellan landed in Umatac Bay on March 6, 1521, and landed in the Philippines on March 16 of the same year, where he fell to Datu Lapu-Lapu in the Battle of Mactan. Residents of Umatac celebrate Discovery Day every March 21st with a re-enactment of the 1521 landing. A simple obelisk marks the site of Magellan’s landing at Umatac Bay.

Forty-four years later,  Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, anchored at Umatac Bay for 13 days and formally claimed Guam for Spain, and during his stay, a Catholic mass was celebrated in a large cruciform canoe house by the bay.

The Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade

On top of these sites, Filipinos would also enjoy visiting the series of forts built by Spain to protect the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade (1565-1815). Spanish governors were wary of English privateers pillaging the colony or capturing vessels heavily laden with precious cargo.

Although galleons were slow, they weren't easy prey since they were armed with heavy cannon which made a direct assault upon them difficult.

Although galleons were slow, they weren’t easy prey since they were armed with heavy cannon which made a direct assault upon them difficult.

Fortunately, two of the forts still survive and can be visited as part of a day tour to these historic sites.

Fort Santa Agueda (better known as Fort Apugan), the only surviving Spanish fort in Hagåtña, sits atop Apugan Hill overlooking Hagåtña on the western coast of Guam. The site might pose a challenge for senior citizens, persons with disabilities and pregnant women since the stairs are pretty steep and a ramp is not available.

Fort Santa Agueda

Fort Santa Agueda


There is a marker describing Fort Santa Agueda in three languages alongside sketches describing the original layout of the fort.

The site belongs to the government of Guam and is maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation. All that remains of the fort is a raised viewing platform, but the site is one of the most frequently visited parks by tourists given its unobstructed view of Guam’s scenic western coast.

The fort has a commanding view of the capital village of Hagåtña, the Philippine Sea, and the sheer northern cliff lines of Oka Point and Urunao Point. It is a prime location to study the northern topography of the island with its raised limestone plateau. During the Spanish era, however, the site was developed for tactical purposes.

Apolinario Mabini & the 32 Exiles

On another aspect of the Philippines’ shared history with Guam are the two Apolinario Mabini monuments found side by side in Assan Point. Mabini was accompanied by some 32 Filipinos as political exiles to Guam on 26 January 1902 on orders of then Gen. Arthur MacArthur, military governor of the Philippines and father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who would gain fame during World War II as the “Liberator of the Philippines,” from the Japanese Imperial Forces in an ironic twist of fate.

Mabini at the Presidio (prison) in Asan in 1902. (paleric.blogspot)

Mabini at the Presidio (prison) in Asan in 1902. (paleric.blogspot)


The Marianas were used by Spain and the U.S. as a place of exile for many of those who were captured. The persons named included five general officers, four colonels, four lieutenant colonels, one major, four subordinate  officers, and fourteen civil officers and insurgent sympathizers. (visit for a complete list of the deportees).

On July 4, 1902, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed amnesty and all the exiles, except Mabini and Gen. Artemio Ricarte, were sent back to the Philippines. The two had to remain on Guam for their refusal to take the oath of allegiance, which was a precondition imposed for the expatriates to be set free. Mabini contended that if any oath was to be taken, Guam would not be the place to do it since it was not a part of the Philippines.”

TWO of these Filipino exiles remained on Guam: Palting and Flores, who became prominent members of Guam society before World War II. Except for these, all the Filipino prisoners were sent back to the Philippines by 1903 except Ricarte who eventually moved to Japan.

“Often, I receive calls by the descendants of the other Filipino families who arrived with Mabini.  Yet, the monument truly and only highlights Apolinario Mabini.  I personally escort these families to the Mabini Monument,” Mr. Ramirez recalls.

Apolinario Mabini historical marker at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. Asan Beach, Guam

Apolinario Mabini historical marker at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. Asan Beach, Guam


Among the other Philippine heroes exiled to Guam with Mabini were Generals Artemio Ricarte, Pio Del Pilar, and Mariano Llanera; Col. Maximo Hizon, Pablo Ocampo, Leon Flores, Pancrapio Palting and Maximo Tolentino. They were quartered in a former a leper hospital until 1903, when all of them took the oath of allegiance to the United States except General Ricarte.”

The monument was erected and inaugurated on July 4, 1961 by the Philippine American Council of Guam under the auspices of the Philippine Consulate General, and maintained by the Batangas & Southern Tagalog Assn. (Basta), Guam, and Cavite Association of Guam.

“Most Filipinos on Guam do not know the site of the Apolinario Mabini Monuments. Yet beautiful floral wreaths are laid at his monuments each year on Philippines Independence Day, June 12th.  The Philippine Consulate Office I believe coordinates this event,” he added.

The Martyrdom of San Pedro Calungsod

As the first ever Filipino saint, Filipino pilgrims to Guam would be primarily interested in visiting the San Vitores Shrine in Tumon where  Blessed Father Diego Luis de San Vitores and San Pedro Calungsod were killed on 2 April 1672 after he baptized the infant daughter of Chief Mata’pang of Tumon, who was once a Christian convert, without his consent.

San Vitores shrine marks the spot where San Pedro Calungsod was martyred with Blessed Fr. Diego San Vitores.

San Vitores shrine marks the spot where San Pedro Calungsod was martyred with Blessed Fr. Diego San Vitores.


The statue of Padre San Vitores in the courtyard of the Tumon Catholic Church on the road named after the martyred priest, is situated near the site of the two missionaries martyrdom between the Guam Reef Hotel and Sails restaurant.

San Vitores was beatified in 1985 while Calungsod was formally beatified on March 5, 2000, by Pope John Paul II and officially canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City on October 21, 2012.


Filipino pilgrims find it curious how Calungsod was not included in the San Vitores shrine. Anthony J. Ramirez, Historian from the Guam Historic Preservation Office, Department of Parks and Recreation, proffered the following explanation in an email to this author:


San Pedro Calungsod was not known as well as Blessed Diego Luis Diego de San Vitores.  San Vitores was the significant figure in the event as he was the founder of the Roman Catholic Missions in Las Islas Marianas in 1668,” Mr. Ramirez noted.


“San Pedro was in Chamoru a Katikista (Missionary Assistant/Catechist).  The sculpture depicts five figures: Padre San Vitores, the Nana (mother), Neni (Baby), and the two  Maga’lahi (Chamoru leaders), Mata’pang andHurau. 


“The sculpture depicts the act of Matakpangi (Baptism in Chamoru) or  Bautismu (Baptism in Spanish).  Not all who were involved were sculptured in the storyline,” he explained.
Mr. Ramirez says the Visayan Community of Guam plays a significant role in celebrating the feast day of San Pedro Calungsod in Tomhum (Tumon in English) on April 2 every year.


“In the same light, the Santu Ninu (Santo Niño) feast day on Guam is also celebrated by the Visayans on Guam.  This is a Filipino annual tradition celebrated at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna (Agana, Capital of Guam) in January.  The religious ritual includes a Mass and Lukau (Procession).  The traditional is so beautiful most especially when the Visayans dance with their Santo Niños through the street of Hagatna as the drums are played,” Mr. Ramirez said.


Getting There


 “Fort Soledad and Fort Santa Agueda are under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Parks and Recreation, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Guam Register of Historic Places. There are no fees to these sites,” Mr. Ramirez said. Visitors wishing to visit these sites can either rent a car or arrange a tour for larger groups.


Fort Soledad overlooking Umatac Bay

Fort Soledad overlooking Umatac Bay

If only specific sites are requested, then a special tour can be requested.  This tour could be referred to as Spanish Guam,  meaning the sites selected relate to the Spanish History of Guam. “With this arrangement, one needs to inform the Tour Company of language choice. Tagalog is one (1) option.  There are several certified Filipino Tour Guides on Guam,” Mr. Ramirez said.


Guest capacity can range from a van (10 pax) to a large bus (up to 55 guests) The Guam Ground Tour Transportation are on the website / Lamlam Tours / Turtle Tours / Kings Tour / etc.


Cebu Pacific flies three times weekly to Guam (Tue/Thu/Sat)  departing NAIA III at 4:10AM and arriving in Guam 9:50AM (Guam is two hours ahead of Manila). Return flights depart for Manila on the same dates 12:00NN and arrives Manila at 1:55PM.



*additional photos  by Joros Razon

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