THE VOYAGE OF FRAY ANDRES DE URDANETA
by Peter Jaynul Uckung
It is fitting to remember the man whose name was given to the city of Urdaneta, Pangasinan. For it was Andres de Urdaneta who recommended Miguel Lopez de Legaspi to be the captain-general of the Spanish fleet who would eventually paved the colonization Philippines. A cousin and close friend of Legaspi, Urdaneta was the one who attended to the preparations of the voyage. Legaspi, then, has no knowledge of navigation. At first, Fray Urdaneta thought that the voyage was intended to find the east coast of New Guinea and make a settlement there. But Legaspi was given the secret order to find the Philippines.
Urdaneta was born in Villafranca de Oria, in the Basque province of Quipuzcoa. A fighting priest and an adventurer, he was born in an era where the world was just being consolidated by discoveries. It was the time of Columbus, Balboa and Magellan. His first adventure was the expedition of Loiasa. He experienced hardship during the younger years; he almost died of thirst and gunpowder wounds. But each time of dire peril, he survived. His strong faith in the Almighty probably destined him to be a member of the monastic order of the Augustinians.
As an adventurer, he learned many languages, and has been in places where few Europeans had ever been before. He was appointed in the Spanish army. Being there, he saw the maltreatment of ethnic groups by Spanish soldiers, and deeply abhorred it.
As an Augustinian priest, he occupied several responsible positions. He was sought by the King of Spain, Charles V, to lead the expedition to the Pacific for his experience and for the fact that he was a prudent and temperate man. The King wrote him: “I command and entrust you go with the said ships in the service of our Lord.” Although Legaspi was to be the captain of the expedition, the technical direction of the expedition was the exclusive affair of Urdaneta.
Urdaneta was a pioneer of the Pacific navigation; he was the discoverer of the “tornaviaje”, or return route to Spain. It must be remembered that all expeditions for the Philippines before Urdaneta failed.
In the area of Anda Circle just outside of Intramuros, there is a bronze statue erected in the memory of Legaspi together with Urdaneta. The monument shows Legazpi carrying a sword while Urdaneta at his side hold up the cross. There, an inscription reads: “he is the unparalleled cosmographer, pioneer of the Christian and Spanish civilization in the Philippines”.
And now we honor his legacy in the town of Pangasinan which bears his name, and thus we pay homage to the circumstances that brought forth a lasting relationship between Spain and the Philippines.