06 March 2018

San Juan de Bocboc, Batangas in the 19th Century as Described by a Spanish Historian

The Municipal Hall of San Juan in the present day.  Image source:  Google Earth Street View.
We move now to the town of San Juan in eastern Batangas, called San Juan de Bocboc during the latter part of the Spanish colonial era, for the continuation of our series on late nineteenth century Batangas towns as described by the Spanish former government official and historian Manuel Sastron. His observations were published in a book entitled “Batangas y Su Provincia,” published in Malabon in 18951.

Sastron began his description of San Juan de Bocboc by enumerating its boundaries: the Province of Tayabas (present-day Quezon) to the north; the sea to the south and east leading to Sigayan and Calbang points; and to the west by mountains that separated the town from Taysan and Lobo.

San Juan de Bocboc had a population of 10.549 inhabitants according to Sastron. The last official census undertaken by the Spanish colonial government before the publication of his book, however, was in 18872. (In the present day, the town’s population had grown to 108,585 as per the 2015 Philippine Census.)

Originally, wrote, Sastron, the town was located close to the coast. At its original location, it was always under threat from two rivers (presumably the overflow of its banks during the monsoon season); the stagnation of waters which posed a serious threat to health; and the unstable land beginning to sink.

In 1886, the parish priest, one from the order of the Augustinian Recollects, first proposed the transfer of the town 7 kilometers inland to (barrio) Calitcalit. Although the proposal would subsequently be approved, not all the town’s inhabitants, in particular those “who were owners of houses built with strong materials,” were eager to make the move.

Sastron was of the opinion, however, that the resistance would begin to subside over time, especially when those who were reluctant to move started to see that staying would only be detrimental to their own interests.

At its new location, central to the efforts to “conveniently urbanize” the town of San Juan de Bocboc was a young priest named Fr. Celestino Yoldi, who was in charge of parochial administration. In just a few months, the priest was able to complete the construction of the church and convent, described by Sastron as “of large dimensions and built with good taste,” not to mention able to withstand “seismic phenomena (earthquakes) that compromise so often the existence of solid buildings.”

It was also through Fr. Yoldi’s initiatives and social interventions – not to mention his persistence – that would be instrumental in coaxing inhabitants of the old town to complete their relocation to the new. (Sastron had more to say about Fr. Yoldi, but no longer relevant to this article.)

San Juan had three ports which served as havens for small boats. Two of these were “unsheltered,” but the last one was safe and had deep waters; albeit getting there, one had to navigate with care the narrow channel that led to it.

The town’s major rivers were the Malaquing-Ilog and the Lauye3. The first, Sastron wrote, served as a boundary with the Province of Tayabas. It was a “stream of streams” which flowed from the towns of Tiaon (Tiaong), Candelaria and Sariaya. The second flowed from the mountains of Rosario (at this time, Rosario was still at present-day Padre Garcia) and wound its way through the town of San Juan before ending up in the sea.

There were also streams originating from the “mountains of Sampiro” called Bucal, Balitian, Magpili and Abul. These streams flowed through stony grounds and their waters were remarkable for their transparency. There were “alligators” in one of the rivers, and these had been known to have harmed people. Sastron must have meant “crocodiles” because alligators are not endemic to the Philippines4.

The forests of San Juan de Bocboc were also described as “extensive” by Sastron, and these had an “extraordinary abundance of monkeys.” They were, however, also known to destroy farmers’ crops. In these forests also lived “big game” such as deer and wild boar, along with many varieties of birds.

There was also this place called Mahabang Parang, where there was a thermal and sulfurous spring which was considered medicinal and useful in the treatment of those afflicted with lymphatic diseases, some skin diseases and even leprosy.

The cultivated lands in San Juan de Bocboc amounted to 60 square kilometers, while another 30 square kilometers were uncultivated. Of the cultivated lands, those with loose soil could be planted with all sorts of crops such as sugarcane, corn, mongo and other vegetables. Those with compact or clayey soil was perfect for rice cultivation.

Despite the abundance of natural waters flowing through San Juan, Sastron noted that agriculture in the town was mostly rain-fed, i.e. there were no irrigation systems.

At the foot of the mountains grew many species of trees that could be used as timber, along with vines and palms. There were also many beehives in these trees from which honey was extracted and sold by the locals.

Some 25 kilometers of the town’s lands were devoted to pasture or for animals to graze. In the town were some 2,000 heads of cattle; 2,500 horses; and 1,000 water buffaloes. A head of cattle cost anything from ₱15 to ₱35 each; while horses cost ₱10 to ₱25 each. Water buffaloes, meanwhile, cost ₱10 to ₱35 each.

There were 6 steam-powered and 60 animal-driven sugarcane mills in San Juan de Bocboc. Often, the case was that sugar produced by the town was already owned by merchants in Manila because of the loans farmers had to avail of as a matter of necessity.

Sugar was, therefore, the town’s primary export to other towns. To make up for the deficiency in local production, San Juan de Bocboc imported rice from Taal and Calaca. Alcohol, tar, coconut oil and nipa were imported from Mindoro and Tayabas. Tobacco had to be bought and shipped in from the capital town of Batangas.

The town also produced lime, home-made fabrics and sacks called “bayons,” clay pots and common salt from seawater. There were 20 fishing pens in the town as well.

Although San Juan de Bocboc had a court house of its own, it was temporarily being occupied by a section of the Guardia Civil. The rate of criminality used to be high; but it had been reduced to the point that the commission of crime had become rare.

There were two primary schools in San Juan de Bocboc, and the one exclusively for girls had just been opened. The town had three major religious festivals, two of which were celebrated mostly by what were known as “Maria’s Honor Guards.” The third was dedicated to the town’s patron San Juan.

The climate in San Juan was generally “mild,” but Sastron wrote that there were some reported cases of malaria. Unfortunately, there were no doctors in the town to treat the few cases of the fever that there were.

San Juan de Bocboc could be reached by land or by sea. There were some narrow roads and trails leading to nearby villages. The main road from Rosario (which at this time was still located in present-day Padre Garcia) was in “very good condition.” While the town itself did not have any registered ships, those chartered from Taal offered travelers an alternative means of transport.

Notes and references:
1Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2Census in the Philippines,” Wikipedia.
3 I am unable to find any references to a Lauye River in San Juan. Did Sastron mean Laiya, instead?
4Crocodiles in the Philippines,” online at Mabuwaya Foundation.

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