The day no Filipinos were born
by Hector Santos
© 1994, 1997 by Hector Santos
All rights reserved.
Why were there no Filipinos born in the Philippines on December 31, 1844? Simple. There was no December 31, 1844 in the Philippines.
We have to go back to the first circumnavigation of the world by Sebastian Elcano and his crew in 1522 to understand why this was so. Elcano was captain of the only surviving ship of the ill-fated Ferdinand Magellan expedition of 1521. Magellan lost his life in the Philippines and all but one of his ships were lost for various reasons.
Everone knows well that the Magellan expedition reached the Philippines by travelling west. They went in the direction of the sun and, unbeknownst to them, they were were losing a small part of each day as they travelled west. During their journey, their average day, reckoned from noon to the next noon, was longer than 24 hours. By the time the lone surviving ship Victoria with Elcano and his decimated crew of 18 returned to Spain, they had lost a whole day.
The date they kept in their log did not match the date in Spain anymore. This puzzled everyone but nobody bothered to investigate how such a discrepancy could have occurred. The people in Spain assumed that the ship’s crew had made an error and nothing more was said about it for a long time.
Later Spanish voyages also went westward, most coming from the west coast of Nueva España or what is now Mexico. Each new expedition also suffered the same “loss” of a part of a day as they went on. Meanwhile, the Portuguese were sending expeditions to the Spice islands by going east. Their average noon to noon days were shorter than 24 hours but they never travelled far enough to gain an extra day. If the Spanish and the Portuguese had checked on each others calendars while they were fighting and squabbling in Southeast Asia during the late 16th century, they would have noticed that their dates didn’t match.
As the Philippines became settled, the Spanish rulers maintained the dates they had been keeping as they travelled west. In later times when Spanish ships finally travelled east via the Cape of Good Hope to the Philippines, their crews were dumbfounded to find that their calendars were one day ahead of what was used in the Philippines.
( As an aside, the Julian calendar, actually implemented by Augustus, was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The Council of Trent authorized Pope Gregory XIII to order that Thursday, October 4, 1582 be followed by Friday, October 15, 1582. Also, the International Date Line as we know it today was finally set at 180 degrees longitude during the International Meridian Conference in 1884.)
In the meantime, the English and the Dutch started going east to form their own colonies, too. However, the official dates used in the Philippines continued to be the same as what the Spanish had originally set. As trade and commercial exchange rose to higher levels, confusion started growing and the discrepancy could no longer be ignored.
The disarray was finally settled when the Archbishop of Manila issued a decree that December 31, 1844 be dropped and that December 30, 1844 be followed by January 1, 1845.
As a consequence, all dates in Philippine history prior to January 1, 1845 are technically wrong. This important fact should be kept in mind when dealing with scientific matters such as when verifying historical accounts of solar eclipses, lunar phases, tides, planetary conjunctions, etc.
This article was rewritten for the World Wide Web and first appeared in the October 1994 issue (1: 7) of Sulat sa Tansô.
- Cowan, Harrison J. Time and its measurement: from the stone age to the nuclear age. Cleveland, 1958.
- Pigafetta, Antonio. First voyage around the world (Rome 1604). Rep. by Filipiniana Book Guild. Manila, 1969.
- Roces, Alfredo R., ed. Filipino Heritage, 10 vols. Manila, 1977.Santos, Hector. "The day no Filipinos were born" in Sulat sa Tansô at http://www.bibingka.com/sst/misc/1844.htm. US, April 3, 1997.
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