01 December 2017

19th Century San Jose, Batangas as Described by a Spanish Historian

Church at San Jose, Batangas.  Image from the Luther Parker Collection at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
This article is the sixth of a series featuring the towns of Batangas in the late nineteenth century, as described by the Spanish Historian Manuel Sastron in his 1895 book “Batangas y Su Provincia1” (Batangas and Its Province).

Our feature this time is the town of San Jose or San Jose de Malaquing Tubig (San Jose of the Big Waters) as it used to be known in the olden days.

The town, Sastron wrote, was 15 kilometers from the capital town of Batangas and was bounded to the north and east by Villa de Lipa, to the south by Ibaan and to the west by Bauan and Cuenca. Note that at this time, Bauan still shared a common border with not just San Jose but also Ibaan; while Cuenca was part of San Jose until 18762.

Sastron noted that the town proper was almost at the center of its entire territory, which was relatively high above sea level and possessed a rather rugged terrain. San Jose’s entire territory was 8,000 hectares, larger than the present day’s 5.329 hectares3. The town’s population was pegged at “10,000 souls,” compared to the almost 77 thousand counted at the 2015 Philippine Census4.

San Jose could be reached by way of the main road that went all the way to the province of La Laguna, or just Laguna as we call the province in the present day. Stone and iron bridges along this road were in relatively good condition. There was another road that led to Ibaan and yet another that went to Cuenca. Both these roads could be travelled by all sorts of animal-drawn carriages.

There were no rivers that flowed through San Jose, Sastron wrote, but there were various streams that drained into the Calumpang River. Water from these streams, he noted, could easily have been diverted into the fields to irrigate crops. Yet, farmers were entirely dependent on rainfall.

Farmers in San Jose planted rice, sugarcane, corn and mongo, among others. There also used to be large coffee plantations in the town, just as there were in the neighboring town of Villa de Lipa.

Sastron noted that were it not for the blight caused by the “bayongbong5,” the tree worm that supposedly killed off the coffee plants all over Batangas, the farmers in the town would have enjoyed “a degree of exceptional prosperity.”

Because of the decline of coffee production, Sastron recommended that farmers of the town should seriously consider planting, instead, abaca and cotton. The altitude, he noted, favored the plantation of these crops.

Sunday was San Jose’s market day. However, those who still had coffee to sell, along with other farm products, could sell these to merchants in the town or even to those who came from as far as Manila during harvest time to purchase these products.

The town, Sastron observed, was not as thickly forested as other towns in the province anymore, except in Bigain which was privately owned. There, timber species such as molave, ipil and banaba were grown over an area approximately 150 hectares.

The church in San Jose was solidly built, according to Sastron. It had withstood countless earthquakes since it was constructed under the leadership of Fr. Manuel Blanco, the Provincial of the Order of San Agustin and former parish priest of the town. Blanco was apparently a learned man, and Sastron wrote a lengthy account of his scholarly work, none of which is really relevant to this article.

He was succeeded by Fr. Roman Sanchez, who was responsible for the construction of the church tower. He was also responsible for the renovation of the convent and the construction of a cemetery to the east of the church. Later, the expansion of the church and its transept was undertaken during the term of Fr. Bruno Laredo. Further improvements to the church were undertaken by Fr. Vicente Maril and Fr. Victorio Perez.

San Jose also had a court house, one constructed by the Bureau of Public Works. It was a work of masonry and iron, Sastron wrote, and met all the necessary construction requirements.

The public school building was made of sturdy materials, although Sastron noted that its roof had been badly damaged by the frequent downpours. This had rendered the building practically useless, something that Sastron noted would be for good unless something was done to repair the building soon.

Notes and references:
1Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2Cuenca, Batangas History,” online at Wow Batangas.
3Batangas,” Wikipedia.
42015 Philippine Census,” online at the Philippine Statistical Authority.
5 In her 2003 dissertation entitled “Demythologizing the History of Coffee in Lipa, Batangas in the XIX Century,” Maria Rita Isabel Santos Castro noted that the decline of coffee plantations in Batangas was caused by a fungus.

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