28 June 2016

The Founding of Pueblos or Towns by the Agustinians in 16th Century Batangas

Ruins of the St. Martin de Tours Church in San Nicolas, Batangas
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(Part V of a Batangas Historical Series)

The awarding of Bonbon as a repartimiento to Martin de Goite by Miguel López de Legaspi in 1571 was just one of many, for indeed, it was Felipe II himself, King of Spain, who willed it so. It was the king’s wishes for the western islands, as the Philippines were then called, to be colonised and the lands divided among those who worked to conquer them.

Spanish strategy in colonising the Philippines was remarkably simple. Wherever they went, they always announced that they had arrived to make friends. The terms of that friendship, it goes without saying, were always heavily in their favour. Their powers of persuasion, of course, were abetted by large ships, better artillery and arquebuses.

The tribal nature of Filipino society at the time, along with the absence of an acknowledged sovereign over the entire archipelago, made it relatively easy for the Spaniards to win new vassals from among the natives for the King of Spain. Those who were reticent to accept Spanish friendship were also ruthlessly pursued and quickly made to see that friendship was, indeed, the better option.

Seizing and redistributing land was, however, just part of the Spanish agenda. One other important point in this agenda was the conversion of the natives into Roman Catholicism. Thus, along with soldiers, the Spaniards had brought with them priests for the evangelisation of the islands’ inhabitants.

Once de Legaspi and his entire camp had settled in Manila and the encomiendas had been awarded, the Spaniards wasted no time building pueblos or settlements and church ministries. Initially active in this was the Order of the Augustinians, priests of which had sailed out to the Philippines with de Legaspi in 15651 and were, thus, the first religious order of the Catholic faith in the country.

It is from Augustinian records that we are able to determine that a pueblo (settlement) and convento (or convent, a residence for the religious, but in the context of the early years of Hispanic colonisation, we assume to also have had a place for worship) were established in Taal in 1572.2 These same records placed Taal as part of Balayan Province.

The creation of pueblos was mandated by Spanish colonial laws. These laws stated that a pueblo ought to be built on places with enough water to sustain the population, wood and arable land. The creation of pueblos had been attributed to missionaries because it was their task to create Christianised communities or settlements, which the pueblos were.3

The original settlement of Taal was located in Balangon, which in the present day is part of the Municipality of Agoncillo, and founded by Fray Agustin de Alburquerque. He had arrived in Manila in 1571 with de Legaspi. The following year, he was elected Prior of Bonbon.4

It was he who gathered natives to found the pueblo in Balangon. The settlement had to be relocated closer to the lake to what is now the Municipality of San Nicolas soon after it was founded because the original pueblo was destroyed by attacks of the “moros del sur” (Moors of the South).5

In 1575, the Agustinian priest Fray Diego de Espinar, originally from Toledo in Spain, was assigned missionary at Bonbon or the Taal area. The first church of St. Martin of Tours was built while he was there. De Espinar would also be assigned missionary in Mindoro, Parañaque and Candaba.6

Further pueblos were built by the Agustinians as records showed. Batangas was founded in 1578, coincidentally the year when the first Franciscan missionaries arrived in the Philippines. Fray Juan de Medina described Batangas as “located on a very beautiful bay” and populated by “six hundred Indians (natives) as tributarios.7

Agustinian records also showed the founding in 1584 of the pueblos Tanauang (Tanauan) and Sala (presently within the boundaries of the present day City of Tanauan). These records placed both pueblos as under the jurisdiction of the Province of Balayan.

The other pueblo founded under the jurisdiction of Balayan was San Pablo de los Montes, which is presently San Pablo City and part of the Province of Laguna.

There was one other pueblo that Agustinian records showed to have been once part of Batangas but was stated as under the jurisdiction of the “Province of Taal” instead of Balayan. That pueblo was Tabuco, founded in 1580 and is presently in the area that is Cabuyao City and, therefore, part of the present-day Province of Laguna.

This might well have been a clerical slip given that the very same records placed the pueblo of Taal as under the Province of Balayan. The cause of this slip might have been because in 1578, the lakeside area (i.e. approximate to present-day Taal Lake) inclusive of Taal and Balayan, which had become a municipality, was known as Bonbon Province.8

A few documents from the Hispanic colonial era seemed to use Taal and Bonbon interchangeably, likely because of the former’s proximity to the latter, which was how the lake was known at the time. At any rate, Bonbon Province was abolished in 1581 by the Spanish colonial government and replaced by the Province of Balayan.

What is noteworthy about all these is that the territory of Batangas Province once extended to parts of what is now Laguna and also farther south to Mindoro and Marinduque.

  Chapter 6

Notes and references:

1 Warrant of the Augustinian Authorities in Mexico Establishing the First Branch of their Brotherhood in the Philippines (1564), as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands Volume II: 1521-1569”
2 Memoria acerca de las Misiones de los PP. Agustinos Calzados en las Islas Filipinas: presentada al Excmo. Sr. Ministro de Ultramar, Madrid 1892
3 The Structure of Pueblos de Indios in the Philippines During the Spanish Colonial Period, by Luis Ángel Sánchez Gómez, Madrid 1989.  Online at Academia.
4 Agustín de Alburquerque, online at Institutum Historicum Augustinianum
5 Batangas y Su Provincia, by Manuel Sastron, Malabon 1895.
6 From the notes of Emma Blair, James Robertson and Edward Bourne on Fr. Juan de Medina’s “History of the Augustinian Order in the Philippine Islands,” written 1630 but published 1893 as part of the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands Volume XXIV 1625 -1629.”
7 “History of the Augustinian Order in the Philippine Islands,” by Fray Juan de Medina OSA written 1630 published 1893. From the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands Volume XXIV 1625 -1629.”
8 La Historia de Batangas, online at Articulos Informativos CONFUZAL.

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