On April 10, 1912, RMS Titanic set sail for its maiden voyage, carrying with it thousands of people who were destined to change their lives four days later. Brandished by its creators as the “unsinkable ship”, Titanic ironically bid its final farewell after hitting an iceberg at the north Atlantic ocean on the fateful night of April 14, 1912. We all know the whole story and the heart-wrenching drama that revolved around the Titanic victims, thanks to the 1997 James Cameron masterpiece. However, 100 years after the ship’s foundering, we are still haunted by the mysteries and secrets that lies beneath the rusty facade of history’s most famous passenger ship. Arguably one of the most controversial issues surrounding Titanic, the identities of “stowaways” who either perished or survived during that fateful night are still cloaked in mystery and vagueness up to this day. Little do people know that some of these stowaways were even described by actual witnesses as “Filipinos” or “Chinese” in origin. How true is this startling discovery? Are there any verifiable facts which can actually link to some Filipinos who actually embarked in the legendary ship 100 years ago? Some parts of Titanic history may have been twisted along the way but what we can do for now is to dissect existing facts regarding this matter.
During a Senate inquiry about stowaways who miraculously survived the Titanic tragedy by hiding in some of the lifeboats or by concealing their identities using women’s clothes, two survivors, George Rowe and Bruce Ismay, which happened to be quartermasters of the Titanic, gave shocking eyewitness accounts that might verify the existence of “stowaways” inside the ship. Both were saved through Collapsible C (lifeboat) along with other first, second and third-class survivors. Here are some of the excerpts of the interview:
Senator BURTON:The passengers, aside from your sailors, were all women and children?
Mr. ROWE:Except Mr. Ismay and another gentleman. When daylight broke, we found four men, Chinamen, I think they were, or Filipinos.
Senator BURTON:Were those additional to the 39?
Mr. ROWE:Yes, sir.
Senator BURTON:All the rest of the 39 were women and children, except two, Mr. Ismay and another gentleman?
Mr. ROWE: Yes, sir.
Senator BURTON:When day broke, you found four Chinamen or Filipinos under the seats?
Mr. ROWE:Not under the seats then, sir. They came up between the seats.
Senator FLETCHER:How many men were in the boat?
Mr. ISMAY:Three – four. We found four Chinamen stowed away under the thwarts after we got away. I think they were Filipinos, perhaps. There were four of them.
When I read this one, I almost slapped myself in the face because if my memory serves me right, the only notable Filipinos in history I know who had the capability to travel abroad during that time were the likes of Jose Rizal, who was obviously dead already when Titanic sank. And if these stowaways were really Filipinos, what were they doing in Southampton, UK at that time and what made them decide to embark on a free journey going to New York? The answers are still unclear, sources haven’t been verified and actual documents that can specify if those stowaways were really Filipinos don’t exist at all. However, there must be some explanations for this discovery. It’s either those Titanic survivors didn’t care to differentiate “Chinese and “Filipino” or they knew the distinguishing features of the two Asian nationalities but were completely lost due to the traumatizing effects of the tragedy itself. According to official records, there are Chinese passengers who survived the accident but these are PAID passengers and not stowaways that the eyewitnesses actually described. Titanic records and documents are far from being complete and accurate so the existence of stowaways and the specific nationalities of these unrecorded passengers will stay hidden in the dark just like the rest of Titanic victims who were never recovered unless new discoveries will be revealed in the future.
On the other hand, if there was an actual passenger who is directly related to the Philippines, then it must be Major Archibald Butt of the United States Army. He became a military aide to the two opposing American politicians at that time, President William Howard Taft and his future successor, Theodore Roosevelt. He was assigned in the Philippines (1900-1904) and became a vital force in the establishment of US Army’s social club, Military Order of the Carabao which was based from the water buffalo that is known in the country as a beast of labor. After his brief vacation in Europe, he bought a ticket and boarded Titanic on April 10, 1912. He was among the first-class passengers in the ship and sadly, one of the Titanic victims whose bodies were never recovered. There are various versions of story regarding Major Archibald but according to actual eyewitness accounts, he was last seen playing cards inside the first-class smoking room while the rest of the ship were becoming chaotic on the night of April 14, 1912.
Titanic has created a long-lasting impact in the Philippines and around the globe ever since the 1997 film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet presented the Titanic story in a whole new angle. Unbeknownst to many, Philippines broke Titanic’s record for being the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history when MV Doña Paz collided to oil tanker MT Vector last December 1987, resulting to an unprecedented death toll of almost 4, 000 victims with only 24 survivors who luckily escaped the hands of death. In 2009, Filipinos also made history by creating the first Filipino-produced documentary for National Geographic. It was directed by Yam Laranas and presented a detailed account of the 1987 tragedy aptly titled as “Asia’s Titanic”.
As we celebrate Titanic’s 100th year anniversary this April 2012, I hope that we can look beyond the 3D version of the Titanic movie (which will be released this April) and start to learn the lessons from this unfortunate tragedy. The follies of men became more evident when Titanic was named the “unsinkable ship” in 1912 because in reality, no one or nothing is perfect and what goes up must always come down. It won’t matter if Filipinos really boarded Titanic or not because in the end, history will never reveal everything and the mystery that comes with each discovery is what will keep us from moving until we prove to the world that Filipinos are not just part of history but are warriors ready to create an unforgettable contribution that will forever be remembered by history.