It All Started With an Assassination
In October of 1593, the seventh ruling Spanish governor-general to the Philippines—Gomez Perez Dasmariñas y Ribadeniera—led a secret expedition to capture the fort of Ternate in the Indonesian island of Moluccas (now Maluku), where two previous Spanish expeditions have failed. Before he sailed, he sent his son ahead with part of the fleet and left the colony under the charge of two other Spanish officials.
The entire fleet consisted of 200 various marine vessels and was accompanied by more than 900 Spaniards and over 250 conscripted Chinese galley rowers that were untrained in synchronized rowing and regularly flogged and starved. The governor's ship, named La Capitana, was manned by only about forty Spaniards and encountered strong headwinds that prevented them from proceeding further on the second day of their military expedition.
While anchored on an island just off the coast of Luzon, the Chinese men realized the grim fate that awaited them fighting a battle that was not their own. So they decided that the best course of action was mutiny, led by a man named P'an Ho Wu. Before the early hours of dawn, when most of the guards were sleeping, the Chinese attacked the Spaniards and killed the governor with an axe to the head, leaving a few survivors to tell the tale.
But according to Spanish colonial official and historian Antonio de Morga, the Chinese rowers were unchained and were paid wages to win their sympathy. Some later accounts also referred to them as Chinese pirates, which was not true. They were only regarded as pirates because they took the galley, along with all the valuables on board, when they were making their escape. The Chinese Emperor allegedly confiscated the items upon reaching Cochin-China (the present-day part of Vietnam), and some of the mutineers were captured in Malacca (Malaysia) and then brought back to Manila to face punishment.
The Sleeping Sentry
When news of the old viceroy's murder came back in the Palacio del Gobernador in Manila, the Spanish authorities were divided in finding his successor. To prevent uprisings from the colonized Filipinos while awaiting the decision, Spanish guards were stationed throughout the perimeter of Intramuros.
An initially unnamed sentinel was standing guard in the Plaza de Armas on the grounds of Fort Santiago, just outside the governor's palace that evening. Attributing it to work fatigue and tense political conditions, he leaned his head against the thick wall to steal some much-needed sleep. When he opened his eyes a few moments later, he found himself in an unfamiliar location.
After the Spanish conquest, the Philippines was ruled by a Mexico-based Viceroyalty of New Spain. Under the orders of conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the fortified city of Intramuros (Latin for "within the walls") was built in 1571 to be the place of residence for Spanish government officials and their families and function as the Spaniard's political and military base in Asia. The site was originally part of a large Malayan Muslim settlement called Maynilad (now Manila), named after the abundance of a flowering water plant locally called nilad (yamstick mangrove) that clustered in the low-lying riverbanks of the Pasig river.
Before moving the seat of power to the Malacañang, the original structure of the governor's palace was destroyed by an earthquake on June 1863, now replaced by its current form, which was built in 1976. Most people also assumed that the soldier in the story belonged to the Guardia Civil—the oldest law enforcement agency in Spain. But this is wrong because they were only established in 1844 and introduced in the Philippines in 1868—275 years after the story supposedly took place.
Out of Place
The Spanish guard was confused as to what had just happened. He asked bystanders where he was, and they told him that he is in the Plaza Mayor (commonly called El Zócalo) in the ancient city of Mexico—nearly 9,000 miles away from the Philippines. Not knowing what else to do, he resumed his guard duties and stood outside the Palacio Imperial (the viceroy's palace) as if he belonged there.
Other Spanish guards quickly noticed him because he stood out like a sore thumb. He was wearing a different type of uniform than they do, which during this time, could potentially invite war. When asked who he was and why he looks strange, he explained that his name is Gil Pérez, a royal guard of the Spanish Empire on patrol duty in Manila just moments before.
In the pre-Columbian era, the Zócalo was the main ceremonial center where the most important ritual activities in Aztec life took place. The site is within the city of Tenochtitlan, just one block southwest of the Templo Mayor, which, according to Aztec legend and mythology, was considered the promised land prophesized by their god Huitzilopochtli and symbolizes the Axis Mundi—the Aztec center of the world, where the sky, the earth, and the underworld met.
Nobody Believed Him
At first, they thought he was insane and escorted him for further questioning. He added some more details about himself, his rank, and his regiment and gave descriptions of the country he was stationed in and its people. Skeptical of the strange soldier's claims, the Spanish authorities in Mexico threw him in jail on the grounds of desertion. To protest his innocence, Gil Perez told them that the governor-general in the Philippines was just assassinated by Chinese mutineers before he was transported to Mexico City.
With such bold fabrication about the governor's death, he was brought to the Viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco y Ruiz de Alarcón. Although Perez was wearing the exact uniform worn by officers in the Philippines, he was still unable to prove his claims. Unable to provide a verdict, the viceroy turned Perez over to the Office of the Holy Inquisition, where he was able to answer all their queries efficiently and stuck to his unbelievable account. The only thing he was not able to explain is how he traveled to Mexico.
To no one's surprise, Gil Perez was declared an agent of the devil and sent to be imprisoned in Santo Domingo on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. He cooperated with the High Inquisitors and generally displayed good conduct while incarcerated. Some say that Perez preferred to be in jail, where provisions are given to him, than fight infidels in the jungles of the Philippines.
A few months later, a ship from Manila arrived in Mexico City, confirming that Dasmariñas was indeed killed. Soon, there was no doubt that Gil Perez was from Manila, but they were still unable to understand how he managed to get there that fast. He was recalled back to Mexico, and one of the passengers of the ship recognized him, stating that he had seen Perez in Manila before they departed. Because he was a devout Catholic, served in the military for twenty years, and committed no crime, Gil Perez was later sent back to Manila on the returning voyage to resume his post in Intramuros.
A note expressing the murdered governor's instructions was later found in his body, wishing for his son Luis Perez Dasmariñas y Paez de Sotomayor to take over his father's position. He ruled for three years until he, like his father before him, was also killed by Chinese rebels in the Sangley rebellion of 1603 after his term as governor had ended.
"It is worthy of consideration, that the same day that the tragedy of Gomez Perez happened, the fact was learned in Mexico by the art of Satan; from whom some women, inclined to such agility, having taken advantage, transplanted to the Plaza de Mexico a soldier who was making a post one night in a garrison of the wall of Manila, and it was executed so without the Soldier feeling, that in the morning they found him marching guard duty in the Plaza de Mexico, asking the name of passersby."
— Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas, 1698, p. 465
So Did It Really Happen?
The assassination of Dasmariñas did happen, but the earliest actual mention of the transported soldier story was published in 1698 by Spanish clergyman and historian Gaspar de San Augustin in his book Conquests of the Philippine Islands. But the fact that it was published over a hundred years after the event does not inspire confidence in its credibility.
Antonio de Morga is also one of the sources often cited for the story's authenticity, in his book Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (Events in the Philippine Islands), published in 1609—just 16 years after the incident occurred. But de Morga failed to mention any details and stated that "no one in Mexico knew of the death of Governor Dasmariñas until word arrived by ship thirteen months later".
When de Morga's book was reprinted in 1890, it featured copious amounts of annotations by Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Rizal had heard of the story from Gaspar de San Agustin and believed it to be fact. When he came to the part that did not include details, Rizal added an annotation that explained the story, as laid out by de San Augustin.
Morga, perhaps because he does not give credence to such facts, not only does not mention them, but says more strictly later (p. 37), that the news was not known [in Mexico City] until D. Juan de Yelasco came for the month of November, 1594, that is, 13 months later.
Because Rizal was such a prominent figure not just in the Philippines but also in Spain, many people also took his word as fact.
For more than 400 years, this story has been told and retold multiple times by various writers and authors. The Spanish soldier remained nameless until American folklorist Thomas Allibone Janvier wrote about it in the 1908 edition of Harper's Magazine under the title Legend of the Living Spectre. Janvier based his accounts on a Spanish version of the legend written by Mexican folklorist Luis Gonzales Obregon, who, also traced it back to de San Agustin's.
At least three dates are being considered for Dasmariñas' death: October 19, 23, and 25. The last one is the most commonly accepted date by historians. Later renditions of the story state that the soldier reappeared in Mexico City on the 24th of October that year. If that's the case, it would make him not just a teleporter but also a seer if the governor was indeed killed on the 25th.
In the 16th century, the galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco made one or two round-trip voyages per year. They usually left the Phillippines in June before the typhoon season began, and the journey would have taken at least five to six months before reaching Mexico.
Provided Dasmariñas died in October, the corroboration by the galleon passengers might be thrown into doubt as well because they must not have known about the governor-general's death if they left the Philippines following the usual schedule. And it would have taken them 17 months to arrive in Mexico in November of the next year, not thirteen months later as suggested by de Morga and Rizal.
For the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition, Gil Perez was a tool of the witches and the devil. Today, many believers in the legend suggest both mundane and farfetched ideas that reflect our modern beliefs and understanding.
The 8th Earl of Clancarty and notable proponent of the Hollow Earth Theory, William Francis Brinsley Le Poer Trench, suggest that Gil Perez was likely abducted by subterranean humanoids that originated in space (referred to as The Greys by Ancient Astronaut Theorists) and living in thriving civilizations underneath our feet.
Another ufologist by the name of Morris K. Jessup, famous for his 1955 book The Case for the UFO, included the story as an example of transportation by a craft of unknown origins. He claims his authority for the integrity of the account by stating:
"A Legend? Not according to the records of the chroniclers of the Order of San Augustin and the order of Santo Domingo. Not according to Dr. Antonio de Morga, high justice of the criminal court of the Royal Audiencia of New Spain, in his 'Sucesos do las Islas Filipinas."
The mysterious case is also compared to a 1696 book titled Miscellanies by antiquarian and natural philosopher John Aubrey. In a chapter about Transportation in the Air, Aubrey recounts a story of a man from Eastern India who was transported to Goa (Portugal) and burned at the stake by the Inquisition.
But could this be just another version of the legend like the one written by Artemio de Valle Arizpe entitled "Por el aire vino, por la mar se fue" ("He came by air, he left by sea") included in a 1936 collection of Mexican folklore?
The most popular opinion about the story is spontaneous teleportation—the hypothetical transfer of matter or energy from one point to another without traversing the physical distance between them. At present, human teleportation as displayed in works of science fiction remains an exotic idea. But scientists have managed to successfully "teleport" data, not matter.
Chinese researchers have reached the longest distance recorded so far when they sent information on a photon (light particle) from Earth to an orbiting satellite in space 870 miles away using the phenomenon called quantum entanglement (which Einstein calls "spooky action at a distance"). The work started in 1997 and gradually increased in distance throughout the years.
Another theory about what happened to Gil Perez was the existence of a wormhole that connects Intramuros to the Zocalo. Both places are considered energetically condensed, which could result in them being part of a global network of energy centers called Ley lines. But this theory is weak, considering that wormholes could only be theoretically produced if two black holes exist in the space-time continuum.
If Gil Perez was indeed a real historical person, the most possible explanation for what happened to him is temporary amnesia. Dissociative fugue is a symptom of a mental disorder triggered by high-stress or traumatic experiences. This condition is portrayed properly in the Marvel series Moon Knight.
As a soldier for the Spanish crown, Perez fought countless wars and was given orders to guard a colonial location placed on heightened alert that night. He could have easily slipped into a fugue state, was ordered to go to Mexico City to deliver the news, and came out not remembering how he got there, thinking it was still the same day.
Philippines and Mexico
Apart from this legend being shared by Mexico and the Philippines, both countries were colonized by Spain and have had shared traditions and culture since then. Mexicans gave Filipinos their version of the celebration of the Day of the Dead, as well as several gastronomic influences. Some may even refer to Filipinos as the Mexicans of Asia. As a Filipino myself, I take that as a compliment.
Whether it is true or not, the story of Gil Perez is a long-standing mystery that captured the curiosity of many.
© 2022 Ian Spike