11 May 2017

The Tree after which Ibaan was named and other Historical Trivia about the Town

Just outside the Municipal Hall of modern day Ibaan.  Image credit:  Google Street View.

The Municipality of Ibaan is one of the Province of Batangas’ middle-sized towns, with a land area of 6,899 hectares and a population (2015 Census) of 52,9701. Its poblacion is roughly 14 kilometers southwest of Lipa City and roughly 12 kilometers northeast of Batangas City.

Before the onset of the nineteenth century, settlers started to arrive at a place which would be called Matala. The barrio’s establishment is placed at the year 1747. This place is roughly four kilometers from and is a barrio of modern-day Ibaan. In 1784, a small chapel was built in Matala so that religious services could be brought to the growing number of settlers by friars.

As is the case with settlements, the community at Matala continued to grow until the early 1800s, by which time the area of what is now known as the poblacion started to get settled. At this time, the growing community was still part of and was administered by the town of Batangas to the south.

Meanwhile, the convent in Matala close to the chapel was razed to the ground by a fire. Misfortune seemed to be always close by because in 1805, the barrio was struck by a severe locust infestation. The infestation caused famine and the price of rice became inflated. Whereas normally a cavan2 of rice sold for no more than ₱1.00, because of the scarcity brought on by the locusts the price shot up to ₱4.00.

In 1832, the barrio officially separated from the town of Batangas and became a municipality with its own principalia. The principalia was the governing unit of Spanish-era Philippine towns. It was made up of the gobernadorcillo, who had similar functions to mayors; and cabezas (heads) of barangays3. The first gobernadorcillo was one Don Bernardo Rafael.

How the new town became called Ibaan, according to local historians, was because the area used to be heavily forested with the iba tree. In the early 1950s, a document entitled “Historical Data of Ibaan4” described the iba as “very similar in structure to calamias (bilimbi in English), only it bears rounded fruits in clusters…”

Although the calamias or bilimbi is also sometimes called iba, from the description given by the document we are able to ascertain that the tree after which the town was named is the phyllanthus acidus. The tree is also known in English, among others, as the Malay gooseberry. It is called iba by Tagalogs but also karamay in the northern Philippines; and is not as widely found in the present day as it used to be5.

The Malay gooseberry or iba, after which Ibaan was named.  By Abhishek Jacob at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44823119.

By 1869, the construction of the church, begun in 1817, was finally completed. This was during the term of the parish priest, the Reverend Fr. Bruno Laredo. The church was placed under the patronage of St. James the Apostle. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1880 but subsequently repaired under the direction of Fr. Francisco Alvarez from 1891 to 18966.

With the Spanish colonial era coming to an end, General Emilio Aguinaldo of the Philippine Revolutionary Government appointed one Juan Eleosida as Kapitan (Captain) of Ibaan in 1896. He was succeeded by one Baltazar Ramirez. The town’s last priest under the Spanish regime was a Fr. Juan Alonzo.

In September of 1901, at the dawn of the American era, local elections were held to select the leaders of the town. One Isabelo Guerra was elected as the town’s president, the equivalent of mayor in present-day local governments. The vice-president was one Juan Macatangay.

A cholera epidemic broke out in Ibaan in 1905, probably an indirect consequence of the concentration camps that the American Army under the command of General J. Franklin Bell set up all around Batangas to flush out the remnants of Filipino resistance under General Miguel Malvar. The living conditions in these camps, according to the author Glenn A. May, were appalling and likely the cause of the breakout of diseases7.

To make things worse for Ibaan, the cholera epidemic was soon followed by a smallpox outbreak. Both diseases caused the loss of hundreds of lives; but Ibaan’s misfortunes did not end with these. In 1917, the town was blighted by an influenza epidemic, which afflicted just about every household.

Ibaan’s fortunes took a turn for the better in 1918 when sugar prices rose to the highest levels up to that point, thereby bringing higher rewards to landowners of sugarcane plantations as well as the farmers who toiled out in the field. This development helped to lift the living conditions in the town.

While primary education had been available since the early days of the American occupation of the Philippines, it was only in 1921 that intermediate classes (Grades 5 to 6) were finally offered in Ibaan. A new building would even be built to accommodate the increasing number of students who wished to be enrolled.

In 1935, the Provincial Eucharistic Congress, “a gathering of clergy, religious and laity to bear witness to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,8” was hosted by the Parish in Ibaan. The parish priest at the time was one Fr. Ernesto Fornaca.

At the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific in December of 1941, officials of neighboring towns evacuated to Ibaan. The seat of the provincial government was also transferred to the town in the face of the Japanese invasion. The following month, forces of the Imperial Japanese Army occupied the town.

Schools under Japanese supervision were soon opened. Nihonggo was included in the curriculum. In 1942, prisoners-of-war released from the concentration camp in Capaz, likely survivors of the infamous Death March, returned home to Ibaan. The sick among the returning soldiers were taken care of at the local convent, which also functioned as a hospital.

Despite the Japanese occupation, guerillas were active in Ibaan and held meetings at a private residence. They were relentlessly pursued by the Japanese, and those who were caught with the help of Filipino informants were executed.

In December of 1944, when Allied Forces under the command of General Douglas McArthur had arrived to liberate the Philippines, to stem their advance the Japanese blew up the Ibaan and Matala Bridges. This did not stop the Allied Forces from advancing, and by the 13th of March 1945, Ibaan was liberated from Japanese rule.

With the Japanese expelled from the town, two days later an American military camp was set up at the grounds of a local school. Ibaan had become particularly crowded because of the presence of evacuees from other towns. When conditions became unsanitary, the provisional military government was forced to relocate many of these evacuees to the town of Batangas.

Normalcy slowly returned to the town and by July of 1945, public schools in Ibaan opened under the direction of the Bureau of Public Schools.

Notes and references:
1 “Ibaan,” online at the Philippine Statistics Authority.
2 During the Spanish era, a cavan (alternatively caban or kaban) was equivalent to 75 liters. “Cavan,” Wikipedia.
3 “Principalia,” Wikipedia.
4 Most of the information from this article was culled from “Historical Data of Ibaan,” submitted by the Ibaan District of the Department of Education to the Division of Batangas as required by Philippine President Elpidio Quirino for the reconstruction of the history of towns and cities.
5 “Phyllanthus acidus,” Wikipedia.
6 “Ibaan church,” Wikipedia.
7 “The Zones of Batangas,” by Glen A. May, published in “The Philippine Studies,” 1981.
8 “Eucharistic Congress,” Wikipedia.

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