The Historical Sins of Carlos Quirino

Posted on 21 September 2021
By Bob Couttie

Much of the myth and misinformation about Enrique can be laid at the door of eminent historian Carlos Quirino, a formidable figure in the Philippine historical community and National Artist for historical literature, honoured on a postal stamp, who single-handedly created the myth of Enrique speaking Cebuano and his imaginary origins in the Philippines.

The first time I engaged with Quirino’s lack of historicity was while researching the Battle of Balangiga of 28 September 1901. A claim that guerrillas were smuggled into the town of Balangiga under cover of a cockfight came from his pen and was consistently repeated in other historical works. In fact, he had mistranslated the Waray word ‘Pintakasi’, which actually means communal work in Waray but which many Tagalogs use to mean a cockfight.

Ahmad Fuad Osman’s Enrique de Malacca.

This error is relevant to his creation of a Cebuano Enrique de Malacca.

Despite submitting his research in other areas to the rigorous peer-review of appropriate journals, a process in which subject matter experts access a contribution, he did not do so with his claims regarding Enrique.

His interpretation of Enrique began in the 1970s and appeared in a book of a lecture, Pigafetta – First Italian in the Philippines, which he gave in 1980, published in  Italians in the Philippines: Three Lectures Held at the University of the Philippines on July 16, 1980 by Carlos Quirino, Esteban A. de Ocampo, and Giuliano Bertuccioli, published by the Philippine Italian Association.

In his lecture, Quirino says:

“After leaving Homonhon on Maundy Thursday, a baroto from the west came along side the Spanish ships. The slave Enrique spoke to Pigafetta, ‘they immediately understood him.’ From that time on, conversation between the natives and the Spaniards proceeded quickly with Enrique as interpreter.

How could Enrique have known the Sugbuanon language? The tongue spoken in Malacca is very different from that of any Philippine language. The only explanation is that Enrique originally came from Cebu. He was probably captured as a boy of 10 or 12 and taken as a slave to Malacca. Tome de Pires, the first Portuguese ambassador to China, wrote in 1513 that Borneans voyaged to Luzones to buy gold and foodstuff which they traded in Malacca; it is highly probable that Enrique was one of those captured in a raid. At that time, a colony of Luzones existed in Malacca, which had been seized by the Portuguese and was a great center in southeast Asia. Magellan must have talked to young Enrique, and hearing that he came from a group of islands in the same longitude as the Spice Islands, decided to buy and bring him to Europe, where they tarried for several years before Magellan could make the trip under the auspices of the Spanish king, Carlos I.

Linguistic evidence is conclusive that the so-called slave Enrique was a Cebuano. I broached this matter to Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison during his visit to Manila several years ago in preparation for his biography of Magellan, but he refused to consider the matter, for then it would not be Ferdinand Magellan who was the first to go around the world, nor Sebastian Elcano the Spaniard, but a humble Filipino named Enrique. It is high time that we Filipinos render Enrique that homage, thanks to the Italian chronicler Pigafetta who carried the young Cebuano’s name in the first account of the circumnavigation of the globe.”

This is extremely problematic. Quirino ignores the landing at Masaua and Enrique’s communications with the datus there. Quirino’s argument requires that Enrique spoke both Butuanon and Cebuano as well as being fluent in Spanish and Malay.

And Chamorro.

Quirino sets aside Pigafetta’s statement that the datus understood Enrique because they spoke several languages. He ignores the fact that trade Malay was spoken in every trading port throughout Maritime Southeast Asia. He does not explain why the ruler of a well-developed international trading port like Cebu did not speak the common business language of the entire region.

Giving Enrique an imaginary back story based on a false premise does not add anything to our knowledge of Enrique. He gives Enrique an accurate knowledge of longitude, which could not be determined until John Harrison’s marine chronometer was invented two centuries later.

There is no way to calculate longitude accurately without a precise chronometer which was not available to Magellan or Enrique.

Quirino presents no linguistic evidence, assumes some conspiracy-induced motive to Morison, a Magellan biographer who retraced Magellan’s route in 1971. Morison seems to have been more familiar with primary sources that Quirino ignored.

By 1991, Quirino had turned his “might have, must have, could have” speculations based on incorrect assumptions about language into indisputable facts. In the Philippines Free Press of December 29 that year he published an article, The First Man Around The World Was A Filipino.

In this, we are told that Magellan:

“…learned that there was a teen-age male to be bought at the slave market, one who, after he had conversations with him, said that he had come from an island farther than east than Sabah on the same longitude as the Moluccas, but considerably north of it. The young slave, subsequently baptized with the name of Enriquez, must have told Magellan how he had been captured by Muslim pirates and that Europeans were unknown in his area of the Pacific Ocean. He must have come from one of the islands then known as the Luzones, about 12 days by sail northeast of Borneo.

Here Quirino is building on the sand with not a pebble of foundation. When faced with primary, secondary, and tertiary sources he shrugs and says “Magellan obviously wanted to keep secret the real birthplace of Enrique as east of Borneo.”

By the time Quirino gets around to publishing his Who’s Who in Philippine History in 1995 he has created an entire biography: Enrique was born in Carcar, Cebu in about 1493, died in 1563 in Cebu City, served Humabon’s Spanish and Portuguese interpreter after the Battle of Mactan, married and had children.

Disingenuously, Quirino writes that Enrique is ‘said to have been’ kidnapped while fishing off Cebu without mentioning that the only person who says it is Quirino himself.

Since there were neither Spanish nor Portuguese visits to Cebu until 1564, a year after Quirino claims Enrique died, it is difficult to see what practical use Humabon had for him.

In Quirino’s mind, the suppositions he had built on the basis of a faulty understanding of Maritime Southeast Asia had become real in his imagination. A process is known as reification.

Quirino’s misinformation was widely accepted, especially among historians, and still is, because of appeal to authority “Why would a man of his stature say it if it wasn’t true?” Rizal made the same logical error regarding Ibn Battuta in his estimation of the location of Tawalisi.


Enrique was not from the archipelago now known as the Philippines and did not speak any Philippine language. He was not referred to by any variant of ‘Black Henry’ in any language until a mistranslation of Magellan’s Will into English in the late 19th century.

The immediacy of Magellan’s Will, a legal document of probative value with the legal standing of an affidavit, supersedes memories of others recorded years after his death. Enrique was captured, not purchased, and was from Malacca.

There is no record of Enrique after the attack on the survivors at Humabon’s banquet and no evidence that he reached Malacca later. He was not, therefore, the first circumnavigator.

Carlos Quirino teaches us that no matter how eminent, authoritative, or respected someone is, the validity of their work depends on sources, the correct use of data and analysis, not the certificates in their wall or their face on a postage stamp.

Bob Couttie (28 December 1950 – 21 September 2021)

About the Author

Bob Couttie (RIP) was an independent British researcher based in Balangiga, Eastern Samar. He was noted for his demystification of the Balangiga Incident of 1901 in his book Hang the Dogs (2004). Recently, he published Fool’s of Gold Volume 1: Fraud, Fallacy, and Fable in Philippine History (2020) with volume two (On the Quincentennial) soon off the press, only to be overtaken by his death on 21 September 2021. This article is originally published on his website, Bob’s Histories & Mysteries, whose contents relevant to the 2021 Quincentennial Commemortions in the Philippines are permitted by the author to be republished on the website of the National Quincentennial Committee.

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