A Voyeur History: Pacifying the Natives (Part I)



Histories can be exciting when they allow us to see –either by the chronicler’s candor or openness – snippets of our histories and cultures that have otherwise been covered by colonial perspectives.


In many accounts, we often would encounter this line: “The Gospel only came really upon the definite establishment of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and his men in 1565.”


I found that statement and more from a small but highly engaging book called Lucban (A Town the Franciscans Built). It was written in Spanish by Leandro Tormo Sanz of the Instituto de Cultura Hispanica, Universidad Central de Madrid. Stated in the book is how the assistance from the Franciscans who opened their archives to the author and a grant from the Juan March of Foundation of Spain, among other things, made possible the crucial study of this town in Quezon. The book was then translated into the English language by Prof. Antonio Serrano of the then Department of Spanish in the University of the Philippines.


My interest in Lucban is inspired by the charm of this town and the many other towns in the area. There is also its proximity to Bikol. With the presence of the Franciscans in the many towns of the region, will there be mention of Nueva Caceres, or Albay, or with the other places?


The book was published by the Historical Conservation Society in Manila in 1971. What pleasantly surprised me though is the “Report and Acknowledgment,” written by Alfonso Felix, Jr., the president that time of the Historical Conservation Society. Felix says: “In writing the history of the Philippines, our historians so far have tended to concentrate on large events as viewed from above, the Conquest, the Dutch Wars, the British War, the Revolution, and so on.” Continuing, he writes: These same events have a very different aspect when viewed from below (underscoring mine).


A view from below! This new way of looking at history would gain popularity much later in the Philippines in the late 70s and 80s.


This position interested me no end. I thus continued reading.


Paragraphs talk of how the Spanish forces, the “postmagellanic expeditions,” left Panay in May 1570, under the command of Martin de Goiti aiming to “explore” Manila Bay. Juan de Salcedo, who was second in command, journeyed to Laguna de Bombon, a place that is now Batangas. His purpose was “to pacify the natives.” The next lines are exciting: He (Juan de Salcedo) “made the customary requirements of peace, to which the natives responded with their arms. He fought and defeated them but in the fight he was wounded by an arrow in the leg and had to give up the conquest.” Now, there is the word, conquest. Shall we praise the proud inhabitants of Laguna de Bombon?


The book has another interesting detail. Quoting the Agustinian (sic) Diego de Herrera, the book mentions “Captain Andres de Ybarra, who is stationed in a bay called Ybalun (underscoring mine), committed robberies and destructions, killed and desolated many towns and did many other ugly things.”


A bay called Ybalun?


My interest though, at this point, is about Fray Diego de Herrera. There are conflicting reports about his death. One common story is that, on his way to Manila, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Catanduanes.


The account of the incident is taken from Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, translated into English from the document, “Conquistas de las Islas de Filipinas.”


Here is a quote from the document: “The venerable Fray Diego left with the above-mentioned religious. When they reached the port and embarked on the ship called Espiritu Santo or San Juan – as others say – they sailed on November 18, 1575, leaving Acapulco under good winds. But a hundred leagues from Manila towards the island of Catanduanes, whether due to fierce storms, too swift a current or carelessness of the pilots, the galleon was wrecked on the coast and dashed to pieces. Since, on such occasions, many usually escape on smaller boats or on pieces of wood or by swimming, about twenty to thirty people reached land, and among them were our religious. The barbarous islanders attacked and killed them with their spears and cutlasses… The barbarians attempted to hide their cruel deed for some time…”


It was Alonso Jimenez de Carmona, according to the document, who, as the parish priest for more than forty years in Catanduanes would tell how he “uncovered the details of the events from an old islander who was present during the tragedy. The old man recounted how the religious, having landed, went with the rest of those who were saved to a rock jutting out to the sea where they set up a cross. The islanders where hidden, and recognized them as religious because of the habits they wore. They decided to kill the religious before murdering the others since the religious were viewed as enemies of their laws, who had to teach them a new religion contrary to theirs.”


Online, there is a prayer for the beatification of Fray Diego de Herrera. The prayer mentions Catanduanes as the site of this friar’s martyrdom.